Monday, July 21, 2008

Why the Disconnect?

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Every time Matt posts the most recent Senate numbers, I look at them, consider the sources, and wonder how to many of the professionals could be so far off from what makes more sense.

My analysis doesn’t even start from the same gate, as all the professionals begin with a current Senate split of 51 – 49. I start with 50 – 50, since there appears to be no rational reason to consider someone who has endorsed John McCain, would like to speak at the GOP convention, will be speaking at the Hagee Convention, and is fundamentally opposed to Democratic principles an actual Democrat.

While you may think this is a minor point, Traitor Joe remains a “Caucus-with-the-Democrats” person because that ensures that the Democrats hold the committee chairs and all the other benefits of being the party in power. There are rumours which point to Joe being ousted from the caucus in January, when the majority will definitely be greater.

This matters because when you read the Senate projections for 538, EV, OpenLeft, Crystal Ball, Cook, SSP, CQ and Rothenberg, they are starting AT 51, which will yield a different total when Joe becomes an official Republican. Therefore, when you read that “Senate Projection” line in the DCW Senate Forecast Table, subtract one, unless you think that Joe Lieberman will still be a Democrat in 2009. In the Senate, a single seat matters, and getting to 61 in 2010 really matters. So, when we look at a forecast of 54 versus 58, it’s a bigger deal than “plus four” might indicate numerically.

When you look at the professional projections, with only rare exceptions, they give every possible tilt to the Republican side. Even Chris Bowers at OpenLeft. While no one who has ever read him, spoken with him, or met with him would consider him right wing, even he calls the Oregon race “Lean Republican.” Now, my projection is much higher: I am convinced the Democrats can pick up a minimum of 8 seats (for a total of 58, not 59).

So the question becomes, why would the professionals understate potential 2008 Democratic gains?

1. Professionals Are Professionals

All professionals need to believe that what they are doing is right, and that what makes them “experts” is that they have been correct in the past, and they know “how these things go.”

Example: if you wrench your back and you go to your chiropractor, he/she will adjust you. If you go to your GP/Internist he/she will give you muscle relaxers, if you go to an orthopedic surgeon, he/she will give you a battery of tests to ascertain if you are a surgical candidate. This is what each knows, and believes in.

Political professionals believe that they need to look at historic trends, look at polls, and rely on their gut instincts, honed on years of practice. “Yeah but….” They have a vested interest in being conservative in their projections. If you understate something and it comes out better, you win “closest without going over”, if you overstate, you ramp up expectations, perhaps with dire results. If you hit dead on, you’re a genius.

To do anything else would be to deny what they know. Therefore, in a transformational year, they may not be as willing to look at new trends.

2. Professionals Are People, Too

People have opinions, and people often see what they want to see. Two people can look at the same thing, SEE the same thing, and have two completely different takes on it.

While I’ve been assured that Charlie Cook is middle-of-the-road and non-partisan, I read his most recent National Journal article and read the tone as one of “Woe be to the Republicans, how sad, how sad.” Does that affect the fact that he (along with CQ Politics and Rothenberg) calls Colorado a toss-up when there is not one shred of data that indicates anything other than a Democratic win? I don’t know. I look at a 2:1 money advantage and being up by 9 in the polls as a pretty solid Democratic win for Mark Udall. I might even understand if Cook put it in the “Democratic Lean” column because it’s an open seat – but toss-up?

And what about North Carolina? On my white board, I have it as a toss-up that will go Democratic Lean by the end of summer, and is a likely pick-up by early October. The professionals have it as Republican to Republican Lean. They have access to the same data I do (probably more data) and for some reason they are ignoring the $7.5 million the DNC is pouring into the race, and the fact that Liddy Dole has been burning through cash.

The professionals are probably relying on polls which indicate that 25% of Democrats voting for Obama will cross over and vote for Dole. It doesn’t seem to make sense that so high a percentage of cross-over will be able to survive the coming onslaught of ads and attention.

3. Base Data Can Be Faulty

We all rely on data. And that data is not always so great. Last week, ABC/Washington Post issued polling data with a prime directive of McCain being a better Commander in Chief than Obama. “Yeah, but...” they neglected to print the part of the poll indicating Obama was up 8 points overall over McCain. Had they released all at once, the frame of the conversation would have been “Obama up by 8”, not the Commander in Chief frame.

And this begs the question of how polls are undertaken. Does one push or accept “Don’t Know?” as an answer. Are polls automated or human? What is the order of the responses? Does the order vary? This and many other parameters feed into the poll outcomes, not to mention who is paying for the poll, and what they are endeavoring to ascertain.

There is new info on cell phone polling, wherein Pew postulates that it is statistically insignificant to count cell phones as it raised Obama from +5 over McCain to +8. That IS a difference. And if you read the comments over at Pollster’s review of the article, you’ll see that some other non-professionals think the difference could be even greater.

Will the cell phone differential make a difference to the Senate race? Not necessarily directly, as there is a higher probability that the Obama campaign is attracting younger (read: more likely to be cell only, or cell mostly) voters than Senate competitors. However, in the 17 states with party voting, it could be all the difference in the Senate races.

4. What Does This Mean For The Numbers?

It means that: there is no Republican lean in Alaska nor Oregon; Colorado, New Hampshire, New Mexico and Virginia are done-deal Democratic pick-ups: and Maine and North Carolina are much closer to “Toss-Up” than “Republican”.

So, for me, it is a direct +4 pick-up for the Udall closest to you in both Colorado and New Mexico, Warner in Virginia, and Shaheen in New Hampshire. The rest of my 58 come from 4 of the following (from most likely to least likely): Begich in Alaska, Merkley in Oregon, Allen in Maine, Hagan in North Carolina, Franken in Minnesota, Lunsford in Kentucky and Noriega in Texas.