Poll Positions

The biggest show in town is about to start – the 2004 Presidential election. A few thoughts before voters go to the polls:

1. As Dan Drezner likes to say, nobody really knows what will happen tomorrow. National polls show a tight race and they swing more than the Count Basie Orchestra. The state polls fare no better. Even if you average the state polls, either candidate has a slim to non-existent lead in key states like Ohio and Florida. When the outcome may depend on what happens in a small number of regions, unpredictable factors come into play – like ballot design, weather, road traffic and political rumors.

2. However, as a social scientist who uses surveys, I really should make a guess. My safe prediction: Kerry will score between 48.5% to 49.3% while Bush scores 48.0% to 48.8%. The rest goes to Nader, Badnarik and other 3rd parties. Why? Undecided voters often – but not always – break for challengers. Right now, Real Clear Politics has Kerry scoring about 47%, which is based on averaging polls from major news organizations and reputable independent polling firms like Zogby, Pew and Rasmussen. Estimate about 2/3 of the undecided 4% going for Kerry and you get my predictions like mine.

3. Going out on a limb: I predict an electoral college tie. Bush gets his old states, Iowa, Wisconsin and New Mexico but loses Florida and New Hampshire to Kerry. Consider unusual leads for Bush in Iowa and Wisconsin and it’s not such a crazy prediction. You heard it here first!!

4. As the resident Iowa Electronic Market junkie at MR, I’ve been watching the contract prices everyday. For a long time, the market has been slightly bullish on Bush vote share and very bullish on Bush getting the most votes… until tonight. The last time I checked in, “Kerry wins” is going for about $.509 while “Bush wins” is going for $.487. The vote share market is still mildly pro-Bush. With the Redskins win and the Iowa market moving a little toward Kerry, we just might be starting four years with John and Teresa.

5. Skeptical about the electronic market? So is Farhad Manjoo, a writer for salon.com. In a nicely written four part series (click here), Manjoo describes his foray into the Iowa electronic market. At first he thinks it’s run mainly by republican traders but he soon realizes that when you bet your own money you are more likely to focus on the underlying forces behind elections, rather than noise. Did George H.W. Bush really blow the election by looking at his wrist watch during his first debate with Clinton? Probably not, but the economy was the likely culprit. Fanjoo isn’t a convert to electronic markets, but he seems to appreciate a basic feature of markets. I think this is the key point – markets aren’t perfect, but people will probably try harder when there is something at stake.

6. Please check out Mystery Pollster, a wonderful blog about the intricacies of polling. He answers all your questions about likely voter models, cell phone users and much else. Informative, professional and clearly written. Highly recommended.

7. Vote switching scheme: I got an email from a certain Dave in Colorado. He asked if I could help him vote trade. He’ll vote for Kerry in Colorado if the other person writes in a neo-classical economist for president. The choices are: Milton Friedman, Vernon Smith, Ed Prescott, Douglass C. North, Gary Becker, James Buchanan, or Ronald Coase. Interested parties should contact bonsaidave1776 ++ at ++ aol dot com.

That’s all for now!


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