Daily Poll Watch: This guy sees one chance in four that electoral winner will lose the popular vote

Until just recently, my favorite polling analyst was Nate Silver of The New York Times.

But I’ve finally come to place more trust in Sam Wang of the Princeton Election Consortium, mainly because he keeps his eye focused solely on the only important thing in a presidential race — the Electoral College.

In a post here the other day, I said that I don’t fully understand Wang’s rather arcane methods of analysis. But I’m beginning to get the basic hang of it all. The most important factor is that he concentrates solely on state polls and ignores national polls. After all, that’s where the real action is. The election will be decided by a state-by-state distribution of electoral votes. It won’t much matter who wins the national popular vote.

The most important thing about Wang’s formula of analysis is that it’s deadly accurate. In 2004, it correctly predicted that the exact outcome in the Electoral College. Four years later, he was off by only one electoral vote.

Another thing, as Wang explains in a post today, “our time resolution is excellent. Other aggregators (Pollster, FiveThirtyEight) use methods that typically must be integrated over at least a week to reveal conditions. In contrast, we give a highly precise statistical snapshot of the race based on polls only.”

And Wang updates his so-called Meta-Analysis of the electoral vote four times a day. His estimate at this writing gives Barack Obama 290 electoral votes, while Mitt Romney gets 248. Two-hundred and seventy electoral votes are needed to win the presidency.

(You’ll find much more about Wang’s methods HERE.)

Anyway, in a piece he posted about an hour ago, Wang says THIS:

Today, the race is quite close. However, note this. In terms of the Electoral College, President Obama has been ahead on every single day of the campaign, without exception.

I would then give the following verdict: Indeed the race is close, but it seems stable. For the last week, there is no evidence that conditions have been moving toward Romney.

The popular vote is a different story. I estimate an approximately 25% chance that the popular vote and the electoral vote will go in opposite directions – a “Bush v. Gore scenario”. I regard this as a serious risk, since it would engender prolonged bitterness.



  1. Actually, he was off in 2004: he predicted a Kerry victory. He’s since changed his methodology, to one that would have predicted a Bush victory had he relied on it in 2004. http://synapse.princeton.edu/~sam/pollcalc.html#final2004

  2. Brian: Regarding 2004, here’s what Wang says:

    Actually, the method was fine, but its inventor, Prof. Sam Wang, made an error. In the closing weeks of the campaign, he assumed that undecided voters would vote against the incumbent, a tendency that had been noticed in previous pre-election polls. Compensating for the “incumbent rule” had the effect of putting a thumb on the scales, lightly – but unmistakably – biasing the outcome.

    Leaving out this assumption, the prediction in 2004 was exactly correct: Bush 286 EV, Kerry 252 EV. In retrospect, it’s clear that the incumbent rule is subjective and cannot be relied upon.

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