OPINION2 November 2012

Let’s get this party started


As the presidential campaign enters the home stretch, Emily Hunt considers the impact Hurricane Sandy has had on the opinions polls and what the effect might be on election day turnout.

Political consultants, operatives and pollsters can get it wrong. Candidates do occasionally wake up on election day thinking that they are definitely going to win, but turn out not to.

As we are now in an era of reality TV-style politics – with voters/viewers playing along to the debates at home on Facebook and Twitter – we all think we know what will happen next Tuesday. We all have an opinion. For those of us watching the campaigns closely, we can tell you which polls seem skewed, whose models seem to make the most sense, and where we are laying our bets.

This week we have less polling to turn to for our answers as several pollsters had to halt operations due to Super Storm Sandy. In the polling data that is out there from the earlier part of the week, the east coast will obviously be less representative than usual.

Nonetheless, there are two big questions as we approach election day. What will happen in the national popularity contest? Who will win 270 electoral college votes?

The popular vote as it stands now is, perhaps, where there could be some surprises on Tuesday. Will President Obama lose the popular vote but win the election? Right now, the national horserace raises this possibility, but we will of course have to wait until next week to know the outcome.

Horserace 4

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Although I am still fairly convinced that President Obama will win the national vote, I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

However – with one giant caveat – I still expect that the biggest, happiest, champagne-popping election party to be at the White House.

Why? It’s all about Ohio. And right now Ohio is leaning to the president.

So goes Ohio

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As for that caveat: this week’s Frankenstorm on the east coast of the US knocked out power for many. There’s even some discussion of how voting will happen at all in New York City. While Ohio didn’t take the sort of hit that the eastern seaboard did, there are still some substantial power outages that could have a massive effect on early voting and election day turnout.

In fact, of the six counties in north-east Ohio currently without power and without an expected date for the power to be restored, four are staunchly Democratic, one leans Democratic and one leans Republican.

(See the New York Times 2008 election map for previous voting behaviour and FirstEnergy Corp’s outage estimates page).

While it is a good sign that early voting locations have had their power restored, a lack of power in people’s homes, offices and schools, could seriously impact turnout.

Provided the power is back on soon in Cuyahoga, Summit and Trumbull counties, I think that the president will win Ohio. Then, Ohio will likely tip President Obama over the edge for an electoral college win.

But if the power isn’t back on soon in north-eastern Ohio, the story on Wednesday could be very different from the one that I – and many others – have predicted.

That said, I’m still not eating my hat.

Thanks to Jacqueline Wallace and Kelsey Cohen for their help.

Emily Hunt is director of insights at Edelman Berland, Edelman’s insights and analytics subsidiary. She is a dual US/UK citizen, and has a strong interest in politics on both sides of the Atlantic. Emily has an MA in Political Campaign Management from New York University and started her career as a political operative in the US before moving into polling. You can follow her on Twitter at @emilyinpublic or find out more about her here.