With only 12 months to go before the next presidential election, one political blogger has handicapped President Barack Obama’s reelection chances at 50-50.
Nate Silver, who runs the "FiveThirtyEight" blog and is working on a book about forecasting and prediction, bases his forecast on four likely scenarios pitting Obama against former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry in an article that will be published in Sunday’s N.Y. Times Magazine.
Silver considered varying economic conditions as well as the president’s approval rating and the “ideology score of the opposition candidate” to calculate a likely winner of the popular vote in each of the scenarios. He concedes that his approach is inherently imprecise in that it does not consider the possibility of third-party candidates or differences between the popular and electoral votes.
“Moreover, voter perceptions about the economy, or the ideological positioning of the candidates may differ in practice from what the objective data say about them,” writes Silver. “Rather than pretending to have all the answers, the model knows how much it doesn’t know and allows for a reasonably wide range of possible outcomes.”
The first scenario considered Romney
against Obama with a stagnant economy and zero GDP growth in 2012. Under such conditions, Romney is likely to coast to an 83 to 17 percent victory over Obama in the popular vote, predicts Silver.
“His chances are slim enough in this case that if I woke up next November to discover that we would have four more years of Obama, I might ask whether there was some sort of October surprise,” pens Silver, pointing to some sort of revelation about the GOP candidate or an unexpected tea party candidate such as Sarah Palin.
The second scenario pits Romney against Obama once again, but with a GDP growth of four percent in 2012. “Obama would be far better off if he could make the 'Getting Better' case,” he says. “Imagine, as before, that Romney is the nominee. But rather than going into recession, the economy grows by four percent next year, enough to make a real dent in the unemployment rate. This would be enough to make Obama the favorite.”
The likely outcome: Obama captures 60 percent of the popular vote to Romney’s 40 percent.
Faced with Perry
in the third scenario and GDP growth of four percent in 2012, Obama would likely take 83 percent of the popular vote as compared to Perry’s 17 percent.
“Imagine Rick Perry as the Republican nominee instead, and Obama has considerably more margin for error,” Silver explains. “Against Perry, should economic growth improve to four percent next year, Obama would be about an 83 percent favorite. This is the most favorable arrangement for Obama — good enough that you might even hear talk about Obama expanding the map again.”
But if the Texas governor were to face Obama in a bad economy, things won’t go nearly as swimmingly for the president.
Indeed, Silver forecasts that Perry would take 59 percent of the popular vote based on zero GDP growth in 2012 leaving Obama with 41 percent.
“Perhaps the most interesting case is the one in which Perry (or Cain) is the nominee but the economy gets worse and falls back into recession,” Silver writes. “This would be a true test of the two political-science perspectives on the election: the referendum paradigm, which would favor Perry, against the median voter paradigm, which would favor Obama.”
Silver says that the ideological positioning of the GOP candidate is also an important indicator. “Historically, this indicator has had a good deal of predictive power,” he says. “When the incumbent party faced an opposition candidate with an extremism rating of 50 or higher, it won re-election in six out of eight cases. When it faced one with a rating of 50 or lower, meaning a more moderate nominee, it won just three times out of nine.”
He ranks the following Republican presidential hopefuls on a scale of zero for an extremely moderate nominee to 100 for an extremely liberal or conservative one, with 50 being average:
Jon Huntsman 40
Mitt Romney 49
Herman Cain 60
Gary Johnson 63
Rick Santorum 64
Rick Perry 67
Newt Gingrich 68
Michele Bachmann 83
Ron Paul 96
“As you can see, Romney’s score of 49 is to the left of every Republican candidate except for Huntsman. But the GOP as a whole has moved to the right, so Romney is about average in the broader scope of history,” according to Silver.
“The bigger problem for Republicans might come if they nominate a candidate further to Romney’s right, like Perry, who has an extremism score of 67,” he adds.
“The difference between Romney and Perry amounts to about four percentage points at the ballot booth. If conditions were otherwise very favorable (or very unfavorable) to Republicans, this wouldn’t be enough to matter: an election that Romney would win by 10 points, Perry might win by six. But an election that Romney might win by just two or three points, Perry could easily lose.”
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