An Alternative To Nate Silver: Here Are The Real Odds

Back in 2008, a man who established his reputation with Baseball statistics was lionized as a political guru for correctly “predicting” the winner of 49 of the 50 states.  He did this through aggregation of state polls, and a formula which, speaking bluntly, was based heavily on subjective weighting of polls he liked.  On his side, it’s true Silver was accurate in 2008.  Silver, however, doesn’t like anyone bringing up his results in the 2010 mid-term election.  This year, Silver has announced that President Obama has an almost ninety percent chance of winning re-election.  He has also, rather dishonestly, tried to hedge his predictions by saying that turnout will decide the actual odds (hidden well below his bold headline), and admitted that if the state polls used invalid weighting on party participation, then the election results may be very different from his forecast.  His supporters have even gone so far in recent days as to demand that Silver’s system be judged on the process rather than whether his predictions come true.  Leaving all this aside, the question may reasonably be asked, about what the odds really are for Obama and Romney.  There is a reasonable method available for determining those odds.

Whenever a percentage chance is given for something happening, it claims that of a hundred possible outcomes, this one will happen ‘x’ number of times.  So we can figure up the odds by working out what each candidate needs, and how they could get there.

First, President Obama.  By this date, there’s really no doubt that the District of Columbia and the following states will be won by Obama:  California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, most of Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.  That gives Obama DC plus 13 states, for 178 Electoral Votes, meaning he needs another 92 EV to win re-election.

Next, Governor Romney.  There is no doubt that Romney will win the following states:  Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming.  That gives Romney 24 states for 220 Electoral Votes, meaning he needs another 50 EV to win the White House.

There are 13 battleground states plus 1 EV in Maine that is contested, for 140 Electoral Votes.  From the start we can see that neither candidate needs to sweep all the battleground states to win.

Before going on, there is a controversy which will sort itself out tomorrow.  Many state polls have given heavy advantage in weighting to Democrats, even when previous elections show no such disparity in voting by party.  As a result, there is suspicion among conservatives that the state polls are inaccurate in stating actual voter support.  So the question comes down to whether turnout will be like 2008, 2004, or somewhere in between.  For each of the states, therefore, we can look at the actual part weights from 2004 and 2008, then use that to tell us what we might see this year.  Here’s how each state plays out, starting with the highest EV states still contested:

Pennsylvania:  20 EV, polls either even or show Obama slightly ahead

08:  Obama                  04:  Romney                Mix: Obama

Ohio:  18 EV, polls even or show Obama slightly ahead

08:  Obama                  04:  Romney                Mix:  Romney

Michigan:  16 EV, polls show Obama ahead but close

08:  Obama                  04:  Romney                Mix: Obama

North Carolina:  15 EV, polls show Romney ahead but close

08:  Obama                  04:  Romney                Mix:  Romney

Virginia:  13 EV, polls show Romney ahead but close

08:  Obama                  04:  Romney                Mix:  Romney

Minnesota:  10 EV, polls show Obama ahead but close

08:  Obama                  04:  Romney                Mix: Obama

Wisconsin:  10 EV, polls show Obama ahead but close

08:  Obama                  04:  Romney                Mix:  Romney

Colorado:  9 EV, polls show Romney ahead but close

08:  Obama                  04:  Romney                Mix:  Romney

Oregon:  7 EV, polls show Obama ahead but close

08:  Obama                  04:  Romney                Mix: Obama

Iowa:  6 EV, polls show Obama ahead but close

08:  Obama                  04:  Romney                Mix: Obama

Nevada:  6 EV, polls show Obama ahead but close

08:  Obama                  04:  Romney                Mix: Obama

New Mexico:  5 EV, polls show Obama ahead but close

08:  Obama                  04:  Romney                Mix: Obama

New Hampshire:  4 EV, polls show tie or close either way

08:  Obama                  04:  Romney                Mix:  Romney

Maine: 1 EV contested, polls show tie

08:  Obama                  04:  Romney                Mix: Obama

On the weights, assuming each of the three turnouts is equally likely, then on average Obama would win 70.3 of the EV and Romney would win 68.5.  But since Obama needs 92 to win, he has a net 38.2% chance of winning, while Romney (who only needs 50 more EV)  has a net 61.8% chance of winning.

That’s the math.   The votes themselves will decide the fact.

Be sure and vote.

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  • asdf

    florida will not “no doubt” go to romney…. what have you been reading

    • djdrummond

      Oh it will, it will. What have you been smoking, that you think its still in play?

      UPdate – got to admit, I never thought Obama would do this well in Fla. IF Obama wins Florida, that’s it right there unless God decides to throw 30 EV from somewhere to Romney.

      • joeyangtree

        When is your concession speech to Nate Silver scheduled? I’d like to watch it in real time.

        Just kidding, but I am interested to see your explanation of why your analysis was so badly broken again, while what you were trying to present an alternative to was so dead on correct. Of course, you could just go the shut off comments to protect your fragile ego route, as you did in 2008 (see http://wizbangblog.com/2008/11/05/i-dissent/ and http://yinyangtree.blogspot.com/2008/11/problems-with-dj-drummonds-2008.html ), but *surely* you actually have to face reality this time around. Well, I guess we’ll see how it goes.

        • djdrummond

          You and I have different ideas of what counts as “dead on correct”. Obama won a tight PV race and got help in OH, VA, and FL from a big storm.

          • joeyangtree

            I wasn’t claiming that Obama won in a landslide, or that this was a historic spanking of Republicans or anything like that. What I was claiming was that Nate Silver’s analysis was dead on correct for the Presidential race (if you disagree, please point out where that analysis was off). I am further claiming that your analysis was badly flawed, just like it was in 2008, as evidenced by your comment about Florida not being in play.

            As I said above, “‘surely’ you actually have to face reality this time around.” Of course, that was half in jest. Introspection is not something you do a lot of, I would think. Learning is often painful, especially when the one who is learning about the state of the world is heavily invested in a different outcome, and you have seemed to have an exceptionally low tolerance for pain in our past encounters.

            I’m sure that your readers would appreciate at least one post of where your analysis of the state of the election was critically flawed. Where were your bad assumptions? Can you see them now? If you can’t understand why these were so badly wrong, how can you ever learn from experience? You will be forced to make the same analytical mistakes again and again, just like you did this year.

          • Carl

            Ass. You sir are an ass. You owe Nate Silver and the readership an apology. Buck up and be an adult.

          • joeyangtree

            That’s more direct than I would have said it, Carl, but I second the motion.

  • yetanotherjohn

    The one problem with your reasoning is that 2008 represented a once in 50 years type of high water mark for the left. So to say that 2012 is going to stay at that high water mark isn’t reasonable (or we have finally seen the arrival of the “emerging liberal majority”). What is reasonable is the mix of something in between 04 and 08 in turnout. What is also possible is a 1980 sort of once in 20 years high water mark for the right (the US being a center right country has high water marks for the right more often than for the left). So if you balance the “unlikeliest” 2008 and 1980 at say 10% each and then the 04 and mix results, you actually get about a 90% chance Romney will prevail and 10% chance for Obama. Of course all that will depend on actual turnout and if the pollsters 08 turnout models is correct, then Obama will win.

    See, I am at least as accurate as Silver and since I am more likely to be right, an even better prognosticator.

    p.s. where is the Weekend Caption contest winner announcement. Forget the election, let’s get to the important stuff.

    • djdrummond

      I don’tr get to choose the Caption contest winners, John. That’s an Executive Decision, and I’m only here because God told the site owner I had comedy value..

      • jim_m

        I have always said that God has a strange sense of humor.

  • Jake J.

    djd, if you feel strongly about your math I suggest you play the odds posted at any number of sportsbetting sites or intrade that have Romney paying about 2.5 to 1 to win. (34% chance of winning). At least make some money off your math!

  • JWH

    From the beginning, I have suspected that we would see a repeat of 2004: A weak incumbent who nevertheless wins over a flawed challenger from Massachusetts.

  • http://www.facebook.com/hollywoodnaz Holly Skellen

    As Mr. Silver is a statistician, his models are built using sound methodology and not guessing or assumptions. But any table of probability (which is what Mr. Silver presents, NOT a prediction) relies on accurate data. The methodology of polling itself can be arcane, but can be simplified by taking the largest sample, coupled with the most frequent sampling done with the most consistent type of data. The fact that this election has been polled more frequently than any other in US history only adds to it’s accuracy.

    To be fair, there may be factors that favor Mitt Romney that have NOT been factored in. This is why Mr. Silver has given Mr. Romney a 10 percent probability of finishing first in the election.

    Mr. Silver was a darling of the conservative when he correctly assigned a high probability to Republican candidates taking seats held by Democrats in the 2010 mid-term elections. How soon we forget. As typical with the conservative media it’s supremely more convenient to shoot the messenger.

    • djdrummond

      Holly, one thing I can tell you for certain, is that Mr. Silver, a rather vocal Obama supporter, has NEVER been the ‘darling’ of any Conservative.

      I can also remind you that he made very clear, bold predictions. If he’s right, he has every reason to brag, but if – as I expect – he is proven wrong, he cannot pretend he was the victim of bad information. Many critics warned him all summer and fall that his assumptions were faulty.

      • http://leatherpenguin.com/ TC_LeatherPenguin

        A lot of people who tout Silver don’t mention how Baseball Prospectus had to rebuild Silver’s model from the ground up because it was so full of crap analytics that no one could get to “work” except Silver.

    • djdrummond

      Holly, one thing I can tell you for certain, is that Mr. Silver, a rather vocal Obama supporter, has NEVER been the ‘darling’ of any Conservative.

      I can also remind you that he made very clear, bold predictions. If he’s right, he has every reason to brag, but if – as I expect – he is proven wrong, he cannot pretend he was the victim of bad information. Many critics warned him all summer and fall that his assumptions were faulty.

  • JustFlushIt

    Luckily we will know very soon how Mr. Silver’s number crunching holds up.

  • Pingback: Crunching the Numbers | Daily Pundit

  • outis

    Are you planning on apologizing to Nate Silver personally or do you think a more official public announcement of how wrong you were would be more appropriate?

    • djdrummond

      Obama winning a tight POV race does not mean Silver is all he claims.

      • joeyangtree

        So, what has Nate Silver claimed that he is not? Please be specific, preferably with a direct quote from Nate Silver.

      • outis

        You’re absolutely right. However, Nate Silver correctly predicting all 50 states (including that fact that Florida would hang) and you not even correctly predicting the Romney safe states is kind of embarrassing for you. As is the fact that your predicted average of 70.3 EV was almost 55 short, an event with an incredibly low probability unless the original assumptions were wrong.

        Nate Silver is no God. He’s just a dude who is applying basic mathematics to the race and seeing what he can do with it. But you are an ideologue and, once again,wrong.

        • joeyangtree

          Exactly. Drummond here sounds like a washed-up boxer that challenged the champ to a fight, got knocked out in the first round, and then said that the champ’s technique is lacking in the post-fight interview. If Silver isn’t all that he claims, what does that make DJ? A lot less than what Nate Silver claims to be, obviously.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Zhou-Fang/1324842836 Zhou Fang

    “DJ Drummond holds an MBA with a concentration in Accounting, and has
    worked in Finance/Credit for 11 years, with 17 years of Operations
    Management experience before that.”

    Well, that explains the banking crisis then.

  • http://twitter.com/babywriter Keith

    So, how you feeling about your math today? Just curious.

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