About Me

I am Associate Professor and Chair of the History Department at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. I am also the Academic Director of the Clemente Course in the Humanities, in New Bedford MA. Author of "Social Security and the Middle Class Squeeze" (Praeger, 2005) and the forthcoming "Saul Alinsky the Dilemma of Race in the Post-War City" (University of Chicago Press), my teaching and scholarship focuses on American urban history, social policy, and politics. I am presently writing a book on home ownership in modern America, entitled "Castles Made of Sand? Home Ownership and the American Dream." I live in Providence RI, where I have served on the School Board since March 2015. All opinions posted here are my own.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

An election guide, and a prediction (or two)

Let's get my predictions out of the way first.

Electoral College:
Obama    303
Romney  235

Others (like the ubiquitous Nate Silver) have Obama with a slightly larger margin, but I've chosen to take a more conservative approach to the swing state results.

I have Obama taking Colorado, Nevada, Iowa, Virginia, Ohio, and New Hampshire.
I have Romney winning Florida and North Carolina, though I have a hunch that Obama could pull off a surprise in Florida.

If it breaks this way, Obama doesn't actually have to win Ohio to win the election.  Indeed, he could lose Ohio and Virginia (the two closest of the states I've put in his column), and still win.  Or, to put it differently, if the networks call either Ohio or Virginia for Obama early in the evening, you can be quite certain of an Obama victory.

I am not going to make a specific prediction on the popular vote, since that would be pure guesswork.  Silver has it at 50.9% to 48.3%.  I agree with him that Obama will ultimately win the popular vote -- but I use the word ultimately, because I believe there is a distinct possibility that the leader in the popular vote may change in the weeks to come.  Don't be surprised if Romney is ahead in the popular vote when you go to bed tonight, but Obama gradually catches and passes him as provisional, absentee and mail-in ballots are counted in California, Ohio and elsewhere.

If you'd like to check out a variety of other predictions (a few of which have Romney winning), go here.

I have been reasonably confident of an Obama victory since last year, and nothing I have seen since has caused my view to change. 

Why?  Three reasons.

First, Obama has been a successful president, particularly given the situation he inherited at home and abroad.  While obviously only half the electorate, perhaps, agrees with me in that judgment, only a very small portion of the country (overwhelmingly white and male, and mostly Southern) strongly disagrees.  And Obama himself remains very popular.

Second, as a consequence of Obama's personal popularity and perceived success, the Republican candidate would have to have the unique talent of holding the extreme elements of the party while broadly appealing to the moderate middle.  The primary field was almost entirely drawn from that extreme element, which would inevitably handicap even the most talented of nominees.  In the aftermath of the two conventions, Romney struck me as one of the weakest Republican candidates for president in years (perhaps since Dole).  The campaign appeared to be poorly run, the candidate headed up a party whose most active and vocal wing was extremist and unrestrained, and Romney himself seemed to lack both personal charisma and a policy argument.  Starting in early October Romney proved himself to be a more formidable candidate than I had anticipated, though not in ways that brought much glory to him or the electorate.  To the extent that he had a policy argument, he abandoned it, tacking toward the center rhetorically.  The extremes of his party, desperately hungry for victory, surprisingly restrained themselves too -- in part because Romney's move to the center appeared to be working after the first debate.  This will have some important consequences for how Republicans interpret their defeat tonight, but I'll save that for a different post.

Finally, the extremism of the Republican Party in recent years, and its racialization in particular, has boxed it in demographically and geographically.  It has become the party of the Confederacy:

Other than among white Southern males, President Obama is going to win a popular vote landslide tonight, and will effectively split the non-southern white vote overall.  If one includes the fact that Obama will win over 70% of Latinos and 90% of blacks (who combined will move toward an electoral majority in the next two decades), and close to 2/3rds of voters under the age of 40, one could argue that only two things made this race competitive:  Obama's race, and the poor economy. 

Things to watch for tonight:
First off, if you read anything on the web this afternoon that claims to use exit polls to give you results, ignore it.  Exit poll interviews skew slightly toward the Democrats, and the early leak of the numbers in 2004 fooled a lot of Democrats (and pundits) into thinking Kerry had it in the bag, before the polls had even closed.  Even the news media won't get the results until 5pm, and barring another leak even they won't release them until actual polling closes.

Polls in parts of Florida and all of Virginia close at 7pm, the first swing states to reveal official results.  I sincerely doubt the networks will be able to call Virginia right at 7pm, and an early result in Florida is even more unlikely, because many polls don't close until 8pm, and voters in heavily Democratic precincts will probably still be in line waiting to cast their ballots.  That said, if either state is called for Obama in the first hour or two after the polls close, you can be quite certain that the president is heading for victory.  If Romney wins Florida, Obama still retains a comfortable path to victory.  However, if both FL and VA are called for Romney, things get MUCH more interesting.

Ohio and North Carolina close at 7:30pm.  I anticipate NC will be called for Romney shortly after that.  In Ohio, however, you are likely to still have people in line (particularly in Democratic areas) past 7:30pm.  In the best case scenario, the networks won't call Ohio until after 11pm, and the Ohio vote won't be determinative anyway.  In the worst case scenario, Ohio becomes the pivot, and we have to wait days -- even weeks -- for all ballots to be counted (and legal challenges to be dispensed with).

Polls in NH and PA close at 8pm.  I would guess that both will be called for Obama shortly thereafter.  Colorado and Wisconsin close at 9pm.  If the scenario I've described above plays out, it may be possible for the networks to call the election for Obama shortly after 9pm, but I doubt they will.  They've been criticized in the past both for calling things too soon, and for interfering with the voting out West by doing so.  On the other hand, there is tremendous pressure to get it right first, so you may find some of the reliable web sources (see below) making the call this early.

Race and voter suppression:

Two other likely stories tonight:  voter suppression (and long lines) in FL and OH, and the Latino turnout. 

Voter suppression presents this country with a serious crisis, that must be addressed in the coming months.  I will follow some of the specifics on this blog as the night goes on, though I don't think suppression efforts will determine the ultimate outcome. 

Still, it should be pointed out that for much of American history interference with and restriction of the franchise has been the norm, not the exception.  In the first four decades or so after World War II the franchise was expanded, most significantly in the Jim Crow south.  But we have witnessed a contraction over the past few decades, with voter ID laws as only a part of a broader trend.  The most egregious example is the disenfranchisement of ex-felons, which keeps over 5 million mostly black American men from voting each election. 

The great danger here is that voter suppression, particularly of the poor and minorities, is now in the exclusive and direct self-interest of one of our two political parties -- and demographic changes will push it further in that direction, unless the leadership of the party chooses another path in the wake of Romney's defeat.  Starting in 2000, and picking up great speed since 2008, the Republican Party has deployed a strategy of state-level voter suppression, particularly after a conservative Supreme Court supported it in its 2008 ruling on Indiana's voter ID law.  For the good of the nation, one hopes that Romney's defeat -- and political reality -- fosters a change in Republican strategy.

The U.S. was one of the last countries in the developed world to attain universal suffrage, and even now we do not have a federally protected right to vote.  Voting is not mentioned in the Bill of Rights, and the details of voting and election law are determined and enforced by the states, even for national elections.  Not until 1868 did the phrase 'right to vote' even appear in the Constitution, when the 14th amendment was passed.  According to the majority in Bush v. Gore (2000), "the individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States."  Americans can vote in presidential elections only if their state legislatures offer them the opportunity, and only under the conditions determined by those legislatures.

For over a decade -- since the 2000 election debacle -- a proposed amendment to the US Constitution has languished on Capitol Hill.  The amendment, proposed by Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL), is officially known as House Joint Resolution 28.  It declares that all citizens of the US aged 18 and over "shall have the right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides," and that right cannot be denied or abridged by the federal government, state and local governments, individuals, or public and private entities.  While the amendment has dozens of sponsors, it has never gotten out of committee.  And it has no Republican co-sponsors.

Latino turnout in 2012, if it is high, will not only ease Obama's path to victory -- it will clearly and irreversibly mark the transition to a new multi-racial America.  Because this transition is and will be resisted, this country should seriously consider making the vote a federally protected right.  This may be the last national election in which any party can build a winning coalition with white men at its core, as the Republicans have sought to do.  Latinos were 13% of the vote in swing state Colorado in 2008, for example.  If we find out after 5pm that the number has risen to, say, 18-20%, it is likely to herald a strong showing by Obama.  If turnout of black and young voters is comparable to or greater than 2008, one can draw the same conclusion.

Where to get reliable and interesting information tonight:
I have a few favorite places that I will be checking in on.  Since I don't have any independent sources of information, I will primarily draw on the sites below for what I write here and on Facebook.  All of them are fact-based, and will resist feverish conspiracy mongering and impulsive judgments.

Assuming the site doesn't crash, Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight is going to give you the best information on the exit polls, and projections.  If the numbers he's been providing are substantially off, he'll let you know. 

Josh Marshall's TalkingPointsMemo is a really good site to follow as well.  Marshall will be live blogging the election, and reporting on stories and results from around the country in real time.  It will be a particularly good place for information on voting controversies, and he also has stuff on the Senate races and referenda.

Ezra Klein's WonkBlog at the Washington Post is a great site for meta-commentary.

Finally, I'm a huge fan of Andrew Sullivan's blog at the Daily Beast.  You really can't beat the perspective of a witty, well-read gay British conservative Obama supporter.  More to the point, he's the only political blogger I know who keeps a foot in both camps.  So if you want simultaneous information on the election, and left and right commentary, go there.

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