Election Odds: The 2012 U.S. Presidential Election

As President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney compete in one of the most contentious elections in American history, the question of the moment is: Who will win the 2012 presidential election? What are the odds that Romney will win? What are the odds that Obama will win, securing another four years in office?

Image: Barack Obama vs Mitt Romney

To date, numerous forecasts have been made to address this question of who will win the 2012 presidential election. Here’s a roundup of a few of the notable presidential election forecasts:

Update (Mon., Nov. 5, 2012): The podcast episode is here! “The 2012 Presidential Election – What Are The Odds?” Listen instantly here or click here to listen in iTunes.  

Update (Sat., Nov. 3, 2012):  RealClearPolitics polling data, Intrade trading and FiveThirtyEight forecasts all suggest that the odds that Obama will win the 2012 presidential election are greater than the odds that Romney will win. Read more below.

The FiveThirtyEight blog now forecasts that  Obama has a 83.7% chance of winning (up from 77.4% on Wednesday) and Romney has a  16.3% chance of winning (down from 22.6% on Wednesday).

Image: RCP-Electoral-Map-No-Toss-Ups-110312

According to trading on Intrade, the odds that Obama will be re-elected President in 2012 are now 67.0%  (down from 68.3% on Wednesday) and the odds that Romney will be elected President in 2012 are 32.8% (up from 32.0% on Wednesday).

The electoral vote count according to Real Clear Politics Electoral Map with No Toss Ups remains unchanged from Wednesday:  290 for Obama (up from 281 last Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012) and 248 for Romney (down from 257 last Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012).  270 electoral votes are required to win the presidential election.

Update (Wed., October 31, 2012):  With less than one week remaining before the November 6th election, the FiveThirtyEight blog now forecasts that  Obama has a 77.4% chance of winning (up from 68.1% last Wednesday) and Romney has a  22.6% chance of winning (down from 31.9% last Wednesday). 
Screen Capture: Silver-Chance-of-Winning-Electoal-Vote-103112

  According to trading on Intrade, the odds that Obama will be re-elected President in 2012 are now 68.3%  (up from 60.2% last Wednesday) and the odds that Romney will be elected President in 2012 are 32.0% (down from 39.9% last Wednesday).

The electoral vote count according to RCP Electoral Map with no toss ups has shifted in Obama’s favor as well:  290 for Obama (up from 281 last Wednesday) and 248 for Romney (down from 257 last Wednesday).  270 electoral votes are required to win the presidential election.

 

Update (Wed., October 24, 2012):  The FiveThirtyEight blog now forecasts that  Obama has a 68.1% chance of winning (down from 70.4%) and Romney has a 31.9% chance of winning (up from 29.6%).  According to trading on Intrade, the odds that Obama will be re-elected President in 2012 are now 60.2% (down from 61.8%) and the odds that Romney will be elected President in 2012 are 39.9% (up from 38.2%). The electoral vote count according to RCP Electoral Map with no toss ups remains the same: 281 for Obama and 257 for Romney.  270 electoral votes are required to win the presidential election.

1. Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight Blog at the New York Times

One of the most extensive sources of election forecast material on the web, the FiveThirtyEight blog features the in-depth analysis of Nate Silver, who gained prominence in the political arena during the 2008 presidential election cycle, when he accurately predicted the victor in 49 of the 50 states (missing only Indiana, which Obama won by 1%). In 2008, he also successfully predicted the winner of all 35 Senate races. As of the writing of this article, the FiveThirtyEight blog forecasts that  Obama has a 70.4% chance of winning and Romney has a 29.6% chance of winning.

Charts: FiveThirtyEight - 2012 Presidential Election Forecasts

2. Real Clear Politics

RealClearPolitics.com (RCP) is quite well known for its RCP average of polling data, which includes polling data from sources such as Rasmussen, Gallup, Fox News, Pew Research, ABC News, the Washington Post, CNN/Opinion Research, Politico, CBS/NYTimes, and the National Journal, to name a few. Here is a summary of the information found on the Real Clear Politics General Election: Romney vs. Obama page. Rollover the chart to view details.
Additionally, based on state-by-state polling data averages, Real Clear Politics produces an Electoral Map as well as an Electoral Map projecting the outcome with no toss ups. 270 electoral votes are required to win the presidential election. Based on the current polling data and a no toss up state final scenario,  RCP is projecting that Obama will win 281 electoral votes, and Romney will win 257 electoral votes. Image: RCP-Electoral-Map-No-Toss-Ups-101912

3. Intrade

Intrade is a predictions market where website members bet on the outcomes of future events. The current price of a given contract (in this case, “Barack Obama to be re-elected President in 2012” or “Mitt Romney to be elected President in 2012”) can be ascribed to the market’s global opinion of the probability that the event will, indeed, take place. According to trading on Intrade, the odds that Obama will be re-elected President in 2012 are 61.8% and the odds that Romney will be elected President in 2012 are 38.2%. Image: Intrade US Presidential Election Scoreboard - 101912

 

The Dissenting View: Forecasting Odds in Favor of a Romney Victory

Although most forecast models are pointing towards an Obama victory, Romney supporters may be encouraged to know that there are forecasts predicting a Romney win instead. Dylan Matthew’s piece discusses five social science studies concerned with forecasting the election, including one study by Michael S. Lewis-Beck and Charles P. Tien as well as the Douglass Hibb’s model, both of which forecast a Romney victory. Lewis-Beck and Tien estimate with 77% certainty that Romney will get 51.8% of the vote, while Obama will finish with 48.2%. The Hubbs model estimates that Romney will win 53% to Obama’s 47%.

Why Do We Care About the Odds?

In theory, an election would mean that we would all simply read up on the candidates and the issues, cast our votes accordingly and then, find out the outcome when it’s over. But the reality is that just as much as we are a country watching the candidates, analyzing the issues, and getting ready to vote, we are a country anxiously watching ourselves. We are consuming a daily diet of polls, ads, fact checks and even minute-to-minute Tweets, presumably aimed at satisfying our craving for the freshest glimpse of our collective selves in the mirror as we inch closer and closer to election day. This race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney is so close, that with just a couple of weeks left until election day, it’s still incredibly difficult to say who will win. And that’s the excitement of it all, and yet, that’s  also the rub. The truth of the matter is that we care about nailing down the odds, pinning a set of numbers on this election, because honestly, the suspense is killing us and just about any semblance of predicability would give us at least a little comfort.

Besides a possible relief for pre-election jitters, for some, an idea of what the odds are surrounding this election may influence decisions on everything from whether or not to donate money or time to a candidate’s campaign to even whether or not to vote at all. Just remember–even the best forecasts make no claim of absolute certainty. So hopefully, you’ll make the decision to vote in this historic election–regardless of, in light of, or in spite of, the odds that your candidate will win.

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