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  2012 Election Projection formulas
 

 
 
 
Presidential Election Projection Formula
 
Attributes of the Formula

I.  Purpose
This formula's intent is to give a general sense of how the presidential contest would turn out if the elections were held today.  As we move closer to election day, its usefulness as a prediction tool will increase.

II.  Objectivity
In developing the formula, I made every effort to be objective, rather than biased toward the GOP. Yes, I am Republican, but this formula does not, in any way, falsely inflate the GOP's standing.

III.  Polls
I try to be thorough and objective in gathering polling data.  I mostly browse RealClearPolitics and TalkingPointsMemo for polls.  However, there may be times when I overlook a poll.  If this happens, I urge my readers to alert me to such polls so that I can include them in the projections.

 
The Formula's Components

I.  Presidential Job Approval
Job Approval is the one statistic that most closely correlates to actual vote totals for an incumbent president.  As such, it is an integral part of my formula.  Up to twelve job approval polls are used, and only polls conducted less than two weeks prior to the most recent poll will be used.

II.  Adjusted National Polling Data
Up to twelve national polls are used to compute an average national margin between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.  Only polls two weeks old or less will be used.  The average national margin is then subtracted from the national 2008 result to arrive at the national polling data adjustment.  This adjustment is then added to the 2008 margin in each state, yielding the national polling factor for the state.

III.  State Polling Data
The aggregate average of polling data is used in the following manner:

  • At most, six polls from a state are used.
  • In the interest of currency, only polls conducted within thirty days of the date of the present projection will be used.  Non-competitive states may be exempted from this time limit.  (Note: Closer to the election, this 30-day limit will be reduced to two weeks.).

IV.  The Formula in action, an example
The state and national head-to-head and job approval polling factors are combined to produce each state's Election Projection.  The weight of each factor is variable depending on the number of recent state polls available.  If no state polls are available for a given state, then the national head-to-head and job approval adjustments will each be weighted 50%.  If state polls are available, the weight of these polls will be defined as follows with the remaining weight split evenly between the national head-to-head and job approval adjustments.

The Formula in action, an example

  State Polling Weight:  20% + (Number of state polls * 10%)
  National Polling Weight:  (100% - State polling weight)/2
  Job Approval Weight:  (100% - State polling weight)/2

  Election Projection
      St. Poll (Avg*Wgt) + Nat. Poll (Adj.*Wgt) + Approval (Adj*Wgt)

Here is an example of the calculations using the formula for Ohio (2008 numbers are from May 28):

  • 2008 National Result:  Obama +7.27%
  • 2012 National Polling:  Obama +1.50%
  • National Polling Adjustment:  Obama -5.77%
  • Job Approval Polling:  Approve +48.50%
  • Job Approval Adjustment:  Obama -3.19%

  •    NOTE:  49% approval rating is considered baseline.  In other words,
          at 49% approval, Obama and Romney would be expected to win
          an equal share of the national vote.  That would represent a
          3.64% decrease in Obama's vote total in Ohio.
  • 2008 Ohio Result:  Obama +4.58%
  • 2012 Ohio Polling (4 polls):  Obama +4.75%
  • Weight:  State polls = 60%, National polls = 20%, Job Approval = 20%
  • Projected 2012 National Result: Obama 49.49%, Romney 48.99%

  •    NOTE:  1.5% is allocated to any third-party candidates.
  • Projected 2012 Ohio Result: Obama wins by 1.86%
What to do about outliers?

Until this year, I have resisted picking and choosing which polls to use in my projections.  My policy until now has been "if it's out there, it's in there."  However, I have come to believe this policy degrades the quality of my projections, not so much at the finish line, but along the way.  So I have decided to do something a bit different this year.  No longer will I take every poll and plug it into the calculations.  I will be identifying and avoiding certain polls that I consider outliers.

Now, this process will be neither hap-hazard nor driven by hunch or emotion.  As is my M.O., I have developed an "outlier test" which will objectively screen all polls for worthiness to be included in my projections. 

The Outlier Test
In order for a poll to be considered an outlier, it must fulfill both the following attributes.

  • If three or more additional polls have been released within the currency periods described on this formula page, the margin of the outlier poll must be more than 7 points outside the average margin of the other polls.
  • And the margin of the outlier poll must be more than 5 points outside the margin of the closest poll used to compute the average of the other polls.

Once discarded, any "outlier" can be reinserted if a poll or polls released subsequently cause the outlier poll to no longer qualify as an outlier when judged by the two points above.  I will use this test for all polls testing Senate, gubernatorial or presidential races, and I will adhere to it rigidly.

 
 
 
Senate and Gubernatorial Race Projection Formula
 
Attributes of the Formula

I.  Purpose
Again, the formula's intent is to give a general sense of how the Senate and gubernatorial elections would turn out if they were held today.  As we move closer to election day, its usefulness as a prediction tool will increase.

II.  Objectivity
Same as above.

III.  Polls
The aggregate average of polling data is used in the following manner:

  • At most, five polls from any race will be used.
  • In the interest of currency, only polls taken up to 30 day prior to the most recent poll of a race will be used.  For example, if a poll was conducted in Ohio on May 15th, another on May 23 and a third on June 20th, only the last two polls will be included in the projection calculations.  (Note: Closer to the election, this 30-day limit will be reduced to two weeks.)
  • If more than five polls meet the time constraint above and multiple polls were released on earliest date, the following order of "tie-breakers" will be used to determine which polls are used
       1. Non-partisan
       2. Likely voters
       3. Largest survey size - least margin of error
       4. Latest survey start date
 
Contested House Race Projection Formula
 
General Description

The formula for contested House races is substantially unlike the formulae I described above.  There are several differences between this formula and the ones used for the presidential, Senate and gubernatorial races.

First, published polls for district races are much more difficult to find than for other races, so I needed another metric which would be reliable and consistent throughout the election season.  The aggregate race ratings of four well-known political pundits is that metric.  The predictions of Stuart Rothenberg, Charlie Cook, Larry Sabato, and the Roll Call will be used.  Since their predictions are qualitative (i.e. leans, toss-up, solid, etc), I will assign a margin of victory to them as follows:

Toss-up/
No Clear Favorite
Tilt Lean Likely/
Favored
Solid/
Safe
0% 2% 4% 8% 16%

Second, when polling data can be obtained, their weight will be based on whether one poll or multiple polls are available.  If one poll is available, it will get a 25% chunk of the projection.  If two polls have been published, the average will be taken, and that result will be 50% of the projection.  Currency stipulations posted in the Senate and gubernatorial formula explanation will apply here as well.

Third, partisan polls will be used with a caveat.  The results will be adjusted by subtracting 2 points from the party of the pollster and adding them to the other party.  For example, if a Republican polling firm publishes a poll with the GOP candidate winning 54% to 40%, the poll will be entered into the calculations as 52% to 42%.

Fourth, an adjustment will be applied to the projection after the pundit rating and polls are included in the calculations.  This adjustment will be based on an average of all published generic congressional polls released in the previous week which test for likely voters.  Conventional wisdom holds that a slight Democratic lead (2 points) in the general poll average translates to a status-quo electoral result.  However, after the red wave election of 2010 which left the balance of power in the House substantially out of balance, that conventional wisdom may not apply.

In that election, Republicans enjoyed a 7-point advantage over Democrats in all votes cast for House candidates across the nation.  That represents a 9-point shift away from "a level playing field."  To compensate for this shift, I am instituting a new composite generic offset.  This year the offset will split the difference between the normal DEM +2 value and the actual GOP +7 mark from two years ago.  That baseline will be GOP +2.5 points.  At that mark, the adjustment will be zero.  Each point in either direction from the GOP +2.5 baseline will increment the adjustment by one-quarter point.  In other words, a generic average of DEM +2.5 would produce an adjustment of 1.25 points for the Democratic candidate in each tracked House race.  Likewise, a GOP +3.5 average would result in a 0.25-point adjustment for the Republican.

 
The Formula in action, an example

For races with no published polls:

(Pundit Avg. * 100%) +/- generic poll adjustment
   NOTE:  Because I refuse to post a "toss-up" rating on any race, I will decide one way or the other in the event that pundit predictions and the adjustment result in a tie.  The margin for such races will be +0.5% for my best guess.

For races with one published polls:

((Pundit Avg. * 0.75) + (Poll * 0.25)) +/- generic poll adjustment

For races with two published polls:

((Pundit Avg. * 0.50) + (Poll * 0.50)) +/- generic poll adjustment

Here is an example of the calculations using the formula:

  • Pundit Predictions:  Raw value = 7.0 for the Democratic incumbent
    • Stuart Rothenberg:  Democrat by 8% (likely DEM)
    • Charlie Cook:  Democrat by 4% (lean DEM)
    • Larry Sabato:  Democrat by 4% (lean DEM)
    • Roll Call:  Democrat by 4% (lean DEM)
  • Polls:  Raw value = -2.0
    • XYZ Polling Company (R):  Republican (R) 44%, Democrat (D) 38%
  • Generic Adjustment:  +0.625
    • Congressional generic poll average:  GOP 43%, DEM 43%
  • Projected Result:  (7.0 * 0.75) + (-2.0 * 0.2) + (0.625) = 5.5%
    • Democrat projected to defeat Republican by 5.5%
2010     2008     2006     2004

Special Thanks To:

Charlie Cook
Cook Political


Congressional Quarterly
CQ Politics


D.C. Finegold Sachs
DC's Political Report


Dave Leip
U.S. Election Atlas


David Wissing
The Hedgehog Report


Larry Sabato
Crystal Ball


Richard & Tony
The Green Papers


Rose Institute
Redistricting in America


Tom Bevan and John McIntyre
RealClearPolitics

2010 Projections, State-by-State

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Arizona
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California
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Connecticut
Delaware
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Georgia
Hawaii
Idaho
Illinois
Indiana
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Kentucky
Louisiana
Maine
Maryland
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
Mississippi
Missouri

Montana
Nebraska
Nevada
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Ohio
Oklahoma
Oregon
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
Tennessee
Texas
Utah
Vermont
Virginia
Washington
West Virginia
Wisconsin
Wyoming
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