Nate Silver: Romney likely wins if he takes popular vote by a point-and-a-half or two — but that’s a big if

Polling analyst Nate Silver REPORTS tonight:

[T]he fact that the national polls now suggest a slight lead for Mr. Obama removes one of the better reasons to think that our forecast might have been underrating Mr. Romney’s chances.

Based on the simulations that we ran on early Sunday evening, for example, Mr. Obama would have an 85 percent chance of winning the Electoral College if the popular vote were exactly tied nationally. This is where Mr. Obama’s Electoral College advantages, particularly in Nevada, Ohio and Wisconsin, would be of their maximum benefit. Given a tied national popular vote, we would expect Mr. Obama to underperform his polls slightly in these states — but since he leads by a minimum of about three points in the polling average in each one, he could underperform those numbers and still win them.

Mr. Obama would be almost certain to win the Electoral College if he won the popular vote by a percentage point or so.


Mr. Romney would not be in much danger of losing the Electoral College if he won the popular vote by more than about 1.5 percentage points. For example, he would be about a 95 percent favorite in the Electoral College if he won the popular vote by two percentage points, according to the forecast model.

But with national polls now showing a slight edge for Mr. Obama, these outcomes have become less likely. If Mr. Romney wins the popular vote, it may be only barely, and that might not be enough for him to win the Electoral College.

UPDATE (10:35 p.m.): Steve Singiser over at Daily Kos Elections has THIS:

[B]y and large, it is hard for Democrats not to be encouraged by the avalanche of numbers cascading down this weekend.

For the first time in a long time, there is a semi-consensus in the national polls, and it is good news for the incumbent. Despite some wildly variable individual polling in the state surveys, the critical mass of data points to a considerably easier path to 270 electoral votes for President Obama than it does for Mitt Romney.

As many have long suspected, there has been a bit of a convergence in this final weekend between the national polls and the state polls. While the state polls have actually remained pretty consistent, there has been a small-yet-clear movement in the national polls in the direction of the president.

For the fifth day in a row, President Obama enjoys an incremental lead in the average of national tracking polls. Today, however, is his largest lead in those five days, and his largest lead since immediately after the Denver debate. The ten national polls today yielded a lead of 1.5 percentage points for Obama, which comes close to matching the high point of the “Mitt-mentum” that immediately proceeded that Denver debate, but dissipated a few weeks ago (long before pundits actually started to notice, as it were).


At the electoral college level, the dilemma for Mitt Romney continues to be finding a reliable path to 270 electoral votes. Sure, there are stray wild polls (almost all conducted by GOP pollsters) which show him with numbers to contend with in places like Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire.


At this late stage of the game, the conclusion seems to be clear: for Romney to win, the polls have to be off. Systematically, in multiple states, and probably by several points. Clearly, Republicans are counting on that fact. Just as clearly, there is essentially no precedent for it. There are cases where individual states have been way off the fairway (Indiana in 2008 is an instructive example–Obama only led in a tiny fraction of Hoosier State polls). But across the board? This would be the first time.



  1. Oh, no, this is quite incorrect, and it’s deeply flawed logic to boot. The argument you put forward is this: Romney can’t win unless the polls are off-track. The polls can’t be off-track. Therefore, Romney can’t win.

    This silly meme has been circulating through the Left like the measles. But it rests on the assumption that a poll’s top-level numbers (like Romney 48% and Obama 46%) are an objective derivative from the raw numbers in the poll and that no other top-level numbers are possible from those raw numbers.

    As we have seen, you can weight the sample groups in one poll however you like and get wildly different answers. (It’s not unlike a winemaker creating a new commercial wine from different combinations and quantities of base wines.) The raw numbers may be on-track, but the interpretation and weighting are more subjective than many people realize… and thus vulnerable to spin from liberal groups who are freaking out over the probability of Romney winning.

    But go ahead and believe this nonsense if it comforts you. Sure sounds like your own definition of religion, by the way.

  2. Dan: Why are you so obtuse?

    Nobody — not me, not Nate Silver, not anybody — says “the polls can’t be off-track.”

    Nate Silver even describes a scenario in his post above where the polls end up wrong and Romney wins.

    All Silver is saying is that there’s no historical precedent for so many state polls being so wrong. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Unprecedented things happen all the time in this life.

    Why do you just make up crap? No wonder you’re a wingnut.

    Have you ever considered taking a remedial reading course?

    Oh, by the way, I posted something a few minutes ago about the possibility, however unlikely, that the polls are wrong. Read it — but read it very slowly so you don’t misunderstand it.

  3. Hey, Dan: Remember the other day when you were ranting and raving about how I was some kind of commie and how polling analysts Nate Silver and Sam Wang were full of crap?

    You said in that comment that I should cite “some real experts, like…Larry Sabato.”

    Well, guess what.

    Larry Sabato says he expects Obama to win with 290 electoral votes:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *