Burnt Orange Report

News, Politics, and Fun From Deep in the Heart of Texas

Support the TDP!

October 25, 2003

Every Horse Race Needs a Bookie...

By Jim Dallas

One of the most contentious debates in the field of political science today is over the "predictability" of elections. This question necessarily leads to some questions which grate at our moral conscience as Americans. If an election is predictable based upon economic conditions and "political time", then how much impact can one individual truly make? Are we controlled by fate or destiny?


On the other hand, one could argue that, if voters are really rational, then it's pretty simple to figure out what they are going to do given objective preconditions. Rational choice theory then encourages us to see electoral predictability as fairly flattering evidence that Americans really know what's best for them, and what could be more moral than that?

In either case, I'm not a very moral person, but I did think it would be cool to try and take a stab at divining - just about a year ahead of time - who has the inside track in the race for the White House. I

(In part I did this in the hopes that I could create a reasonably realistic computer game, so I'm not without some pragmatic motive).

Read ahead for the gruesome details.

The Burnt Orange Political Weather Forecast

This month's forecast for the 2004 Election -- still 54 weeks away -- suggests a somewhat competitive election in which President Bush has a slight Electoral College advantage.

The overall forecast suggests an election similar to that of 2000, with probably battleground states being:

(Leaning Slightly to the Democrats)

Washington, Oregon, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania

(Leaning Slightly to the Republicans)

New Mexico, Iowa, Missouri, and Florida

In these states, both parties have a better than one-in-three chance of winning.

Other possibly competitive states - where the chance of an upset falls to one-in-ten, are:

(Leaning to the Democrats)

California, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, and Delaware

(Leaning to the Republicans)

Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Ohio, and New Hampshire

Should all of these predictions all come to pass, President Bush will be re-elected with 285 electoral votes, with the as-yet unnamed Democrat receiving 250 electoral votes.

Bush has 235 EVs "solid" or "leaning", with the Democrat having 196 EVs "solid" or "leaning". Slight Lean/Tossup states comprise 104 EVs.

This prediction assumes a presidential approval rating of 55 percent in the Gallup Poll on or about Labor Day of next year. It also assumes an approximate 3 percent increase in real disposable income in the third quarter of 2004.

It does not add in the likely impact of the Democratic candidates's home state advantage (since we do not know who the Democratic candidate will be). Expect about a four-point bounce in the state tally for whomever the candidate is.

Here is a table with the projected two-party vote shares and the probabilities of a Democratic win:

State      Share   Prob.   Rank
AL      41.7%   3.0%    38
AK      32.4%   0.0%    48
AZ      44.9%   13.2%   31
AR      47.9%   31.3%   25
CA      55.1%   84.3%   12
CO      45.8%   17.8%   29
CT      59.1%   96.9%   6
DE      53.9%   77.2%   13
DC      82.8%   100.0%  1
FL      48.3%   34.4%   24
GA      43.2%   6.6%    35
HI      60.4%   98.5%   5
ID      30.4%   0.0%    50
IL      55.3%   85.4%   10
IN      41.5%   2.7%    39
IA      48.9%   38.3%   22
KS      38.4%   0.4%    45
KY      41.4%   3.1%    37
LA      44.3%   10.6%   32
ME      54.8%   85.1%   11
MD      58.9%   96.7%   7
MA      64.1%   99.9%   3
MI      52.3%   67.2%   15
MN      52.3%   67.7%   14
MS      38.8%   0.7%    42
MO      48.3%   34.6%   23
MT      38.8%   0.7%    43
NE      34.9%   0.1%    47
NV      47.1%   25.8%   27
NH      45.8%   17.1%   30
NJ      56.9%   91.8%   9
NM      49.4%   42.9%   21
NY      62.6%   99.6%   4
NC      43.9%   8.3%    34
ND      39.2%   0.8%    41
OH      47.7%   29.9%   26
OK      37.3%   0.3%    46
OR      51.1%   57.8%   18
PA      52.1%   65.5%   16
RI      64.7%   99.9%   2
SC      42.2%   3.6%    36
SD      39.8%   1.1%    40
TN      46.2%   19.9%   28
TX      38.4%   0.5%    44
UT      30.4%   0.0%    51
VT      57.3%   94.3%   8
VA      44.1%   9.7%    33
WA      51.9%   63.4%   17
WV      50.3%   52.5%   20
WI      50.8%   55.4%   19
WY      31.0%   0.0%    49

The validity of this forecast

The model is based on data from 1964 through 2000. Although perfect data for 1956 or 1960 was not available (as I shall explain below), the model was able to make reasonably good guesses as to which states the Democrats would carry in those years.

The 1960 Retrocast --

The model achieved roughly 75 percent accuracy for this election. While it predicted a Kennedy victory over Richard Nixon (345 EVs to 186 EVs; 6 EVs from Alaska and Hawaii not counted), it missed several important states; it mistakenly called Washington, Oregon, Montana Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Florida for Kennedy, while calling Connecticut, New Jersey, and Nevada for Nixon. Nor could the model foresee that Democratic electors in Mississippi and Alabama would vote for conservative Harry Byrd instead of the official Kennedy/Johnson ticket, which won by a total Electoral College vote of 303-219-15.

Kennedy's unforseen success in Nevada, New Mexico, Louisiana, and New Jersey may likely have been caused by Catholic voters (and perhaps the reverse is true in Tennessee and Kentucky).

Alaska and Hawaii were omitted from this retrocast as it was the first election in those new states, and the model is heavily dependent on past performance.

The 1956 Retrocast --

The model successfully predicted an overwhelming landslide by President Dwight Eisenhower over Democratic challenger Adlai Stevenson, missing only Missouri (which it called as a "solid" Eisenhower state), North Carolina, and Louisiana (which had a "slight lean" towards Stevenson/Kefauver). Overall this yielded 45 correct calls and 3 incorrect calls, a 93.7 percent correct-call rate.

Within-sample retrocasts (as opposed to these out-of-sample retrocasts) showed a consistent error rate of between 5 and 10 percent. So it is possible that 5 states (or even more) in the 2004 forecast could "flip." Generally, though, this "objective" forecast is roughly in line with the widely-regarded predictions made by Larry Sabato as well as the more subjective ones at PresidentElect.org. Ron Faucheux at Campaigns & Elections, perhaps the world's foremost political oddsmaker, also gives Bush a slight advantage (54.5%) heading into next year.

Factors weighing into this forecast

This forecast was created using a pool of six models, namely --

  • Two linear regression models (one with a constant, the other with an intercept of zero) estimating the Democratic share of the two-party vote;

  • Two probability models gauging the probability of a Democratic win (1) or loss (0) -- one model uses LOGIT, the other uses PROBIT (rhymes with "hobbit");

  • Two probability models gauging the probability of an individual voter voting Democratic (1) or not (0) -- again, using both LOGIT and PROBIT.

All six models use the following variables:

  • Democratic share of the two-party vote in the last election;

  • Average Democratic share of the two-party vote in elections t-2 through t-4 (that is, the last three elections prior to the previous election; in 2004 that means 1996,1992, and 1988);

  • The ideological position of the median voter in that state, ranked on a scale of -3 (most conservative) to 3 (most liberal). This is based on a moving average of the annual scores derived by Fording, Rinquist, Hanson, Berry (1998), who use congressional voting scorecards from Americans for Democratic Action and the AFL-CIO to estimate the ideological leanings of constituents. Since the three-year moving average for 2001-2003 can not yet be calculated (and won't be until early next year), ideology scores for 2000 (the moving average of 1997-1999) are used currently;

  • A dummy variable (1 for Democratic presidents, -1 for Republican presidents) denoting whether the Democratic presidential nominee is the incumbent president;

  • A dummy variable (1 for Democratic presidents, -1 for Republican presidents) denoting whether the Democratic presidential nominee is the incumbent vice president;

  • A dummy variable marking the home state of the incumbent president (1 for Democratic presidents, -1 for Republican presidents);

  • A dummy variable marking the home state of the Democratic presidential nominee (which in all cases is zero for this forecast, since we don't know who the candidate is yet);

  • The incumbent president's job approval rating, as measured by the Gallup organization on or about Labor Day (via David Burbach at MIT for many of the data points). This is positive if the incumbent is a Democrat and negative if it is a Republican;

  • and the natural logarithm of the percent change in per-capita real personal disposable income in the third quarter of the election year (what a mouthful!).

Two additional dummy variables were used to account for unusually poor Democratic performance in the Deep South in 1964, as well as unusually good Democratic performance in the South in 1976. Generally, accounting for the whims of the Southern white bloc vote was the hardest part of producing this forecast -- the Southern tide which propelled Kennedy and Carter was not present for Johnson and Clinton. Moreover, accounting for George Wallace's vote in 1968 created headaches; eventually, I decided to count Wallace votes as Republican votes (since, presumably, the same voters who went for Wallace earlier voted for Republican Goldwater in 1964 and later voted for Republican Nixon in 1972).

Overall the models use 503 datapoints (every state and D.C. since 1976; ever state in 1972; and every state except Alaska and Hawaii in 1968 and 1964). The two linear models have R-square statistics of .86 and .84, respectively; and global F statistics of 264 and 241, with 491 and 492 degrees of freedom. Both voter-probability models have maximum ln-likelihoods approaching -336, and both state-probability models have maximum ln-likelihoods of about -103.

In the future I intend to update this prediction using better data, including the "true" ideological scores for 2001-2003 and more accurate estimates of 2004 Q3 RDI growth. I also would like to experiment using congressional support for the president as a variable (the logic behind that being that a state congressional delegation's support of presidential initiatives is driven, in large part, by the president's popularity back home among the contituents).

The entire Excel spreadsheet will be found here. Criticisms of a strictly mathematical sense (as this was the first time I have applied LOGIT/PROBIT analysis) are very welcome. Be warned, the spreadsheet is about 31 megs large. A non-interactive, HTML version will be found here.

Finally, I am deeply indebted to the prior works of Steven Rosenstone, Douglas Hibbs, Ray Fair, John Zaller and Larry Bartels. I am also grateful for Charles Annis's Web tutorial on implementing generalized linear models like LOGIT and PROBIT on his Web site, statisticalengineering.com. Major sources of data are Dave Leip's Election Atlas, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Posted by Jim Dallas at October 25, 2003 02:46 AM | TrackBack


Before you go any further, I commend to you the following URL:


The authors explain why the model you're developing is likely to be worthless.

Even more intriguing is the sidebar that was published with this article:


The authors develop a model which has predicted the two-party voting percentage for elections since 1968 more accurately than any of the academic models out there. For example, while the academic models predicted Al Gore to get between 53 to 60% of the two-party vote in the 2000 election, this model gave Gore a bare 50.1% majority - just 0.1% off the actual result. It's an excellent result, considering that the only variables in the model are the number of points scored by the losing team in the most recent Super Bowl and whether the most recent Summer Olympics suffered a boycott.

Posted by: Jonathan at October 25, 2003 01:46 PM

Oh, I know there is a good chance that it will be off, I've read it.

And in Rosenstone it makes it clear that most everybody, regardless of whether they were using econometrics or political science or reading tea leaves -- almost everybody seriously screwed the pooch in 1976. And as I note implicitly, not even my model could correctly guess the results in 1976 or 1964 in the South (although as I do also note, I have a strong hypothesis as to why) without the addition of arbitrary dummy variables.

(Arbitrary dummy variables make baby Jesus cry).

BUT - while the record is not perfect, it is significantly better than random guessing. And as Zaller/Bartels note in their paper, it really comes down to variable selection and how models are weighted. As soon as I can develop an easier way to implement Bayesian Model Averaging (I tried this summer, and failed) I intend to do so with this.

Moreover, modeling has value because it helps to make generalizations about what factors influence voting behavior. You may notice in my post I say that a candidate's home state advantage is likely to be about four points. That comes from my model (or atleast the two linear models; the GLMs are harder to interpret due to their bases in log-odds and such), which estimates the value to be 4.1-4.4 percent. Interestingly, this is in line with previous estimates of this value (I remember reading the 4 percent figure from one of the papers referenced in Zaller & Bartels 2001).

It's worthless to interpret this model as a statement of absolute fact. I try to qualify (and quantify) its predictive ability with the 1960 and 1956 postdictions (and as I noted, I wouldn't be surprised if I called 5 states, or so, wrong). I did this in part because in another recent post I rapped John Lott for not trying to qualify his model's predictive capability.

I have tried my hardest to implement good statistical practice, making sure that my variables are both (a) reasonably in line with established voting theory and (b) that each variable is statistically significant (using T statistics).

Thus for these reasons I feel what I have been working on for the last four months has educational value and to a lesser-extent, decision-making value.

And I hoped it would be interesting.

Although back to your note -- the Slate article does correctly take on some professors which made claims about a Gore victory in 2000. Again, as Zaller/Bartels note, their are good reasons why those claims didn't work - because they were basing the claims on the "wrong" econometric variables. More importantly, though, what was wrong about Abramson and other touting a certain Gore win was that, quite simply, they tried to make their prediction sound too authoratative.

I certainly am willing to admit that - as I noted in the opening part of the entry - that this is just a "stab" in the dark. Hopefully, it will be a very good stab -- an educated guess (in the language of science) -- as to what will happen.

UPDATE: The Excel and HTML files are now online. Sorry about the delay.

Posted by: Jim D at October 25, 2003 02:22 PM

Speaking of bookies check out www.tradesports.com where you can bet on who will win each state. In general the posted odds are more favorable to Bush. In particular Bush is favored in all your leaning slightly to Democrats states and also in Michigan, Minnesota and Delaware. Bush is given a 50-55% chance in Maine (as opposed to your 14.9%) and 17-22% in Rhode Island (as opposed to your .1%). Overall Bush is given 61-63%.

Posted by: James B. Shearer at October 25, 2003 05:18 PM

Demographics, voter turnout and population shift dramatically from year to year. This model does not strike me as particularly well grounded from an empirical standpoint.

Posted by: dsquared at October 25, 2003 10:24 PM

Demographics, voter turnout and population shift dramatically from year to year. This model does not strike me as particularly well grounded from an empirical standpoint.

Posted by: dsquared at October 25, 2003 10:24 PM

Dick Gephardt has his own idea as to which states are in play here.

I guess he has written off Flordia. Plus I would put Arizona in the "in play" category.

Posted by: Karl-T at October 25, 2003 10:48 PM

Given the results of these models over the years, they're really not much better than guessing....

The problem with election modelling can be summed up by modifiying the old military adage and saying modellers are always forecasting the last election. In the fall of 2000, some of the people quoted in the article I referenced were still insisting Al Gore would get 55+% of the vote even as polls were showing Gore and Bush separated by only a point or two. One of the modellers, after the election, insisted that his model was accurate (even though it missed the actual proportion by over 6%) because the election had been an "outlier".

Modelling assumes that the electorate values the same issues in the same way for each election and thus tries to shoehorn what are essentially discrete events into a whole. However, even over the course of four years, what the electorate values can change. In that sense, having data from many years ago may actually hurt one's model more than help it; can we really assume that the factors that made a presidential candidate desirable in 1964 are the same in 2004? As Roseann Roseannadanna said, "If it's not one thing, then it's another".

It seems to me the best way to model a presidential election is to wait until a few days before the election, check the polls, and see who's ahead. I guess that would take all the fun out of it, though....

Posted by: Jonathan at October 26, 2003 03:54 AM

I remember having a game for my Apple IIc that was just this modeling. Interesting the cover of the box had the states correct in the election later that year.

I have been a strong supporter of Howard Dean, giving money when I am unemployed and working a July 4th event in Pasadena as well as other events.

Looking at the electoral map, which I was concerned about before, and wondering how the issues of anti-war and gay civil unions will play out in the battleground states, I have not been active recently.

No matter how much I want a straight-talking politician in the White House I want Bush out more.

Posted by: Easter Lemming Liberal News Digest at October 26, 2003 04:26 PM

Hmmm ... Gephardt seems to think Kentucky and S. Carolina are swing tossup states. Does that strike anyone else as absurd.


Posted by: Sherk at October 26, 2003 08:47 PM

Yeah, I'm with you Sherk.

Gephardt calls SC a swing state and NH GOP-leaning.


Last time I checked SC was solidly Republican at the presidential level and New Hampshire was a swing state. Or maybe it's just me.

Posted by: ByronUT at October 27, 2003 12:59 AM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

June 2005
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
      1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30    

About Us
Advertising Policies


Tip Jar!

Recent Entries
BOR Edu.
University of Texas
University Democrats

BOR News
The Daily Texan
The Statesman
The Chronicle

BOR Politics
DNC Blog: Kicking Ass
DSCC Blog: From the Roots
DCCC Blog: The Stakeholder
Texas Dems
Travis County Dems

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett
State Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos
State Rep. Dawnna Dukes
State Rep. Elliott Naishtat
State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez
State Rep. Mark Strama
Linked to BOR!
Alexa Rating
Truth Laid Bear Ecosystem
Technoranti Link Cosmos
Blogstreet Blogback
American Research Group
Annenberg Election Survey
Polling Report
Rasmussen Reports
Survey USA
Texas Stuff
A Little Pollyana
Austin Bloggers
DFW Bogs
DMN Blog
In the Pink Texas
Inside the Texas Capitol
The Lasso
Pol State TX Archives
Quorum Report Daily Buzz
George Strong Political Analysis
Texas Law Blog
Texas Monthly
Texas Observer
TX Dem Blogs
100 Monkeys Typing
Alt 7
Appalachia Alumni Association
Barefoot and Naked
BAN News
Betamax Guillotine
Blue Texas
Border Ass News
The Daily DeLay
The Daily Texican
Dos Centavos
Drive Democracy Easter Lemming
Get Donkey
Greg's Opinion
Half the Sins of Mankind
Jim Hightower
Hugo Zoom
Latinos for Texas
Off the Kuff
Ones and Zeros
Panhandle Truth Squad
Aaron Peña's Blog
People's Republic of Seabrook
Pink Dome
The Red State
Rhetoric & Rhythm
Rio Grande Valley Politics
Save Texas Reps
Skeptical Notion
Something's Got to Break
Stout Dem Blog
The Scarlet Left
Tex Prodigy
View From the Left
Yellow Doggeral Democrat
TX GOP Blogs
Beldar Blog
Blogs of War
Boots and Sabers
Dallas Arena
Jessica's Well
Lone Star Times
Publius TX
Safety for Dummies
The Sake of Arguement
Slightly Rough
Daily Reads
ABC's The Note
BOP News
Daily Kos
Media Matters
NBC's First Read
Political State Report
Political Animal
Political Wire
Talking Points Memo
CBS Washington Wrap
Matthew Yglesias
College Blogs
CDA Blog
Get More Ass (Brown)
Dem Apples (Harvard)
KU Dems
U-Delaware Dems
UNO Dems
Stanford Dems
GLBT Blogs
American Blog
Boi From Troy
Margaret Cho
Downtown Lad
Gay Patriot
Raw Story
Stonewall Dems
Andrew Sullivan
More Reads
Living Indefinitely
Blogroll Burnt Orange!
BOR Webrings
< ? Texas Blogs # >
<< ? austinbloggers # >>
« ? MT blog # »
« ? MT # »
« ? Verbosity # »
Election Returns
CNN 1998 Returns
CNN 2000 Returns
CNN 2002 Returns
CNN 2004 Returns

state elections 1992-2005

bexar county elections
collin county elections
dallas county elections
denton county elections
el paso county elections
fort bend county elections
galveston county elections
harris county elections
jefferson county elections
tarrant county elections
travis county elections

Texas Media
abilene reporter news

alpine avalanche

amarillo globe news

austin american statesman
austin chronicle
daily texan online
keye news (cbs)
kut (npr)
kvue news (abc)
kxan news (nbc)
news 8 austin

beaumont enterprise

brownsville herald

college station
the battalion (texas a&m)

corpus christi
corpus christi caller times
kris news (fox)
kztv news (cbs)

crawford lone star iconoclast

dallas-fort worth
dallas morning news
dallas observer
dallas voice
fort worth star-telegram
kdfw news (fox)
kera (npr)
ktvt news (cbs)
nbc5 news
wfaa news (abc)

del rio
del rio news herald

el paso
el paso times
kdbc news (cbs)
kfox news (fox)
ktsm (nbc)
kvia news (abc)

galveston county daily news

valley morning star

houston chronicle
houston press
khou news (cbs)
kprc news (nbc)
ktrk news (abc)

laredo morning times

lockhart post-register

lubbock avalanche journal

lufkin daily news

marshall news messenger

the monitor

midland - odessa
midland reporter telegram
odessa american

san antonio
san antonio express-news

seguin gazette-enterprise

texarkana gazette

tyler morning telegraph

victoria advocate

kxxv news (abc)
kwtx news (cbs)
waco tribune-herald

krgv news (nbc)

texas cable news
texas triangle

World News
ABC News
All Africa News
Arab News
Atlanta Constitution-Journal
News.com Australia
BBC News
Boston Globe
CBS News
Chicago Tribune
Christian Science Monitor
Denver Post
FOX News
Google News
The Guardian
Inside China Today
International Herald Tribune
Japan Times
LA Times
Mexico Daily
Miami Herald
New Orleans Times-Picayune
New York Times
El Pais (Spanish)
San Francisco Chronicle
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Times of India
Toronto Star
Wall Street Journal
Washington Post

Powered by
Movable Type 3.15