Possums Pollytics

Politics, elections and piffle plinking

McCain gets Impalined

Posted by Possum Comitatus on September 5, 2008

This was me in Crikey today.

With the Democrat convention and the Palin choice making for an event ridden week in US politics, the big question remaining is “Did it make a difference?” – And that’s a question we can probably answer, yet the answer is one we may not be expecting.

The Gallup Daily Tracking polls since the beginning of August tell us all we need to know about the way the “Convention Bounce” played out for the Democrats, where the period of the convention itself is shaded in the chart below.

But the problem with the bounce in polling that usually occurs with political conventions in the US is that it tends to only be a bounce, and one that quickly washes out of the system. Yet the complicating factor here is the Palin effect, where the announcement of Palin as the McCain Veep choice seems to have benefited both the Republicans and Democrats in the polling, making us question whether the current Democrat polling levels are solid because of a public reaction against Palin, or merely a post convention balloon that has yet to deflate because of all the Republican Convention hoo har.

Thankfully we have other tools at our disposal here for digging deeper into the way the politics are playing out – the markets. My esteemed colleague Richard Farmer takes the odd dig at me for being a betting market skeptic. It’s not that I’m a skeptic, but rather, if we are going to look at the markets, we need to do it properly – preferably with large amounts of number crunching and plenty of spiffy charts.

If we look at the chart above, but this time replace the McCain Gallup tracking with the current Intrade “Democrat as President” market (that can be read from the right, below), we find something interesting.

As the polls for Obama went north, the markets became cynical and went south, yet reacted strongly for the Democrats with the Palin announcement, suggesting that the Palin effect is floating the Democrat vote and preventing any post convention deflation in Democrat public support that might ordinarily have been expected.

Yet even this headline Intrade market doesn’t tell the full story, in fact, it’s not a very good metric to use at all – if we want to get to the real guts of public expectations in the market, we need to look at how things play out collectively in the individual State Intrade markets – after all, the US election is effectively the combined result of 50 separate, but interdependent electoral contests. Electoral College votes are the only game in town.

For a few months now I’ve been running a weekly 100,000 trial simulation based on the State Intrade markets that not only adjusts for the fact that US States aren’t independent events, but also adjusts for the dodgy nature of the long probability tails of political markets – you can see more about the simulation and the methodology soon here at Crikey, but for the moment, here are the results from the overnight Intrade numbers.

That last chart tells us the probability of the Democrats winning at least any number of Electoral College Votes – simply choose a number from the bottom, trace it vertically until the bar ends, then trace horizontally to the left to find the probability of the Democrats winning at least that many ECV’s

So far this year, the simulation results have been a leading indicator of the headline “Democrat as President” market, and are far more attuned and sensitive to political events as they unfold. Redoing the simulation again using the last two days worth of Intrade data, we can see clearly that the Democrat Convention dragged the markets down, but Palin is quickly becoming McCain’s nightmare.

Firstly, we need to have a squiz at the comparisons between the Democrat as President headline market probability and the simulation probability using State market data – the highlighted region on the right of the following charts shows where the data moves from its usual weekly period, to a daily period starting last Sunday:

Since Sunday, the combined State markets have moved strongly to the Democrats, lifting the simulated probability of a Democrat victory from 58.7% to 64.9%. Yet the week before, the Democrat Convention actually dragged the Democrats down. The headline “Democrat as President” market probability on the other hand, well, it’s still having a nap – but if history is to go by, that will change soon and catch up with the simulation.

If move on to the Electoral College Votes that are currently allocated to the Democrats in the State markets (remembering folks, it takes 270 to claim the Presidency), as well as the simulated Electoral College vote allocation we get:

Again, the Democrat Convention drove the markets down, but the Palin announcement has lifted the Electoral College vote numbers for the Democrats up from 293 on Sunday, to 311 today, with the simulation results all measuring a large, broad, State by State movement toward the Democrats every day since the Palin announcement. 26 States have actually moved to the Democrats since Sunday, with Missouri, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Montana and Florida all moving by more than 5%.

More importantly for the Democrats though has been the way the Palin announcement has stalled the two month Republican recovery in public opinion and market expectations, giving momentum back to Obama and returning the Republicans to the electoral position they were experiencing at the beginning of August.

It wasn’t the Democrat Convention that has become the Republican’s problem – in 5 days, the McCain campaign has been Impalined.

UPDATE – 7th September:

The last few days worth of Intrade market data have been updated with some serious movements in the markets and polls. Click through to see.


In other news, one of the best Qld political journos, Dennis Atkins, writes a regular column in the Courier Mail called “Party Games”. Dennis has become courageous enough to turn it into a blog, and not merely a faux blog. Worth checking out.

And finally, for something completely unusual:


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Against a backdrop of miraculous visions and terrible repercussions in Rwanda, secret facilities in Iraq, landmines in Cambodia and political cleansing in East Timor comes the extraordinary stories of some very unique Australians setting out to bring relief and assistance to a troubled world. But when politics impedes progress, and reality shatters aspiration, the only consistency is compromise.

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So, if you like your theatre political and independent, and happen to be in Sydney – then it might be worth checking out. You may even get a free ticket out of it.

Oh, yeah – Iemma got the boot.

The problem for NSW Labor is will anyone in NSW actually care?


20 Responses to “McCain gets Impalined”

  1. Enemy Combatant said

    Poss, commented the below on LP last night. Could go a ways to explaining why Ms.Palin has so far failed to induce a positive poll and punting response.

    Sep 4th, 2008 at 10:35 pm
    Nate Silver notes that Palin’s speech may have released a “Reverse Redneck” dynamic upon the campaign.
    A delicious irony if it gains momentum spurred by hard evidence of “conduct unbecoming” discovered as the forensic examination of Ms Palin’s past continues afrenziedly.

    Palin may be just as American as anybody, but she still seems to come from Somewhere Else.

    This would be fine… even interesting and appealing… if she weren’t attacking{Obama}. But we have a deep, instinctive aversion to people who are part of us (even if we don’t really like them much) being attacked by people we perceive as outsiders. Our instinct is to stiffen up, to protect.


  2. Lyn said

    Andrew Bolt will be devastated. Still, we have yet to see how her speech went over, assuming it takes people a few days to discuss and digest these things. Then there’s the days of bickering over her speech and what people might have thought of it.

    Apparently her speech motivated both Republicans and Democrats to donate to their campaigns, and Obama ended up with as much in donations as McCain.

  3. tomd said

    Possum, how can you tell whether the polls / markets are moving because of the Palin nomination or the Obama speech the evening before? While I’m inclined to agree, I don’t think you’ve made the case here over the cause.

    One thing is that Palin has been in the news over here far more than the Obama speech, so if things have swung the Dems’ way over the last week then that’s a more likely reason. The GOP wanted to get the speech out of the news cycle as quickly as they could, and the Palin nom was quite successful at doing so.

  4. If you are a middle of the road American voter and John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin doesn’t scare you, then the prospect of her as President surely must cause a missed heartbeat.

  5. Possum Comitatus said


    We can see that the polls moved because of what went on at the Democrat convention – they moved every day of the convention toward the Dems

    But since the convention ended, the polls have remained solid for the Dems – now that’s interesting because the convention bounce usually starts deflating a few days later, sometimes taking a week or two to unwind, but usually starting to unwind straight away (from the 5 or 6 rounds of convention/polling data I’ve found anyway).Yet over a week after the Dem convention started, there has been no deflation in the Dem polling at all.

    The State markets move quicker than the headline market over political events. So if the State markets were reacting merely to the polling bounce, they reacted far slower than they usually do. Barely moving at all when the expected Democrat poll bounce first came out (the markets wouldnt be expected to move much over that poll bounce anyway because the poll bounce was *expected*, because it always happens, and these are political futures markets). It wasnt until the Palin announcement that the State markets moved dramatically.

    So we have the question of “Why is the Dem post-convention polling acting unusually compared to previous conventions?”, the “Why wont it deflate?” question.

    We also have one answer to that insofar as “Palin had a pro-Democrat effect in the other measure of public opinion – political futures markets”.

    The Palin effect is a possible answer to the Dem polling question that has a bit of evidence to back it.

    There could well be Dem convention effects washing in to the Palin effect -but the timing was interesting in that Palin was the trigger rather than the Obama speech. The Obama speech didnt move the markets a jot on the day (and really, that was to be expected, because the markets (and any one with a few political clues to rub together) expected Obama to deliver a cracker of a speech… that’s his strong point, that’s the norm).

    But the moment Palin was announced, the markets went heavily Dem, and have continued to move that way until this morning. It will be interesting to see how they keep that up now the Rep convention has ended.

  6. tomd said

    Thanks, Possum.

    I expect that the markets went early as a general reaction the “featherweight” nature of Palin – more of a guess that she won’t last the distance.

    While the McCain camp are trying to suggest that disaffected Hillary voters might now vote GOP in November, in reality Palin was pick aimed squarely at the GOP’s own base. This has been borne out by their speeches this week, which have been anything but aiming for the middle political ground. They’re spending their efforts shoring up the base rather than trying to win independents, and it’s hard to see how they’re going to do that now. It wouldn’t surprise me if the polls don’t react much to the RNC – the people that it’s been aimed at were already republicans, the question was whether those people would turn out to vote in two months. The steps made by the GOP in the last week will certainly have helped their odds there, but probably at the cost of the middle ground that they also need to win.

    The distractions caused by the Palin nomination have meant that Republican attacks on the Dems really haven’t gotten through this week. That could be another reason that the Dem poll numbers haven’t dropped as they have in the past. It might mean that they’ll start to bite when the news media returns to business as usual, though. We’ll see.

  7. tomd said

    Enemy Combatant: Thanks for that link. The commentary and polling numbers towards the end of the article talking about the “entrenchedness” of the attitudes towards Obama particularly is really interesting. Dragging him down seems to be all the GOP have at this point, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to be easy.

  8. Wakefield said

    Good analysis Possum. Always hard to separate out numerous factors at work but your big number crunching will achieve it if anyone can. And while Palin (Assemblies of God) may gee up the fundies there are a lot of other forces in the GOP which wouldn’t see Palin’s politics as a plus. They would be scared that the wolf has been let in to the sheep pen. Its a bit like the Assemblies of God (Rich Families First) here and their relations with other conservatives. While RFF try and push themselves as a centre force every time a Lib defects to them to try and get some profile they say that its the hardline “family values” that attracts them.

  9. Jason said

    Hey Poss you see this? Try to keep a lid on it, willya?

  10. Ian Whitchurch said

    Palin’s speech at the RNC is similar to that of Obama four years ago.

    The difference is that Palin – trying to fire Librarians for lack of a loyalty oath and all – is on the ticket, rather than planning now to build a machine to win in four years.

    She has talent – she is a natural polititian – but by running now, she is risking being Geraldine Ferraro the Second.

    And can anyone remember what happened to her ?

  11. Justin Whelan said

    Poss, I reckon the markets went to the Dems after the announcement for the obvious reason: insiders saw her and said “lightweight”. That may yet be jumping too soon. She was excellent with her speech – feisty, sassy, conservative, full of energy. Probably played to the base more than independents, but didn’t *look* like a lightweight.

    One of the CNN commentators on CNN pointed out we won’t really know until a journo gets her on their own.

    One thing’s for sure: Hillary needs to be the one to take her out.

  12. PASOK said

    Interesting that InTrade has already opened up a market on Palin being axed as VP candidate.

    Janet Albrechtsen has really taken Palin to heart. They must be sisters. She came out firing her support with more references to “leftie-elites” and “liberal media” than any other vitriolic attacks than I can remember. Maybe Palin is living the life that Janet wished she could have.

    Jon Stewart had a red-hot go at the GOP and their new pin-up girl.

  13. Ronin8317 said

    The modern US Republican Party rest on three pillars : Social Conservatives (Christian Fundies), Fiscal Conservatives (Supply sider), and Foreign Policy establishment (Neo-cons). Palins is a bone thrown to the Christian Fundamentalist. McCain knows that he cannot win unless he can become the ‘change candidate’, and he is hoping that Palin can help him with her ‘reformer’ image. Unfortunately, all the voters are hearing for the past week is how she fails as a mother. The notion that she may become POTUS if McCain become incapacitated mid term will put the fear of God into the neo-con establishments.

  14. Harmless Cud Chewer said

    Possum, the polls are a measure of how people will respond when asked particular questions. The US election on the other hand is more about those who have enough fire in their belly to turn out and vote rather than go shopping. Has anyone done any serious research on who will turn out to vote and why?

    As much as democrat voters (and moderate voters in general) don’t like Palin, she’s there to have the effect of getting the lets-put-creationism-into-schools religious nutters to turn out and vote.

  15. cyclosarin said

    Today’s Gallup has McCain up by 3 points, Rassmussen has similar numbers, both huge samples, too. Both beyond MoE movements.

    I don’t think this article holds water, Poss.

  16. Possum Comitatus said

    It seemed to work explain the data at the time, which is all we can really do. The State markets have gone ballistic over the last few days, moving one way, surging the other while the polls are doing their expected bounce thing with the Dems finally starting to deflate… but only by a few points. The latest McCain polling surge is as much, if not more about the growth in Republican polling numbers rather than a decrease in the Dems.

    I’ll go over all this later today when the Sunday Intrade data closes.

  17. […] Republican president. If she wins — and no matter what Gallup says, given the electoral vote projections, that’s still a mighty shaky if — then Palinmania could be a huge asset in galvanizing […]

  18. John Ryan said

    I think that the Palin announcement has been a huge boost for the McCain campaign – he is now leading in almost all polls. I think you looked too early when you said Palin had been a negative – what was negative for the Republicans was the convention day/s before Palin’s speech.

    Palin or McCain’s speech has moved a lot of undecideds (particularly, whites and women) to McCain. I find Palin’s and McCain’s views on many issues deeply offensive, but the race has certainly moved in their favour. Attacking Palin will only distract Obama from attacking Bush/McCain.

    I can’t help thinking that Biden was a bad choice. It did nothing to [further] excite the Democratic base (or even attract independents). It was a boring choice and was a slap in the face to Hillarycrats. It wasn’t even a surprise and was the worst kept secret for a week or more.

    Biden was overtly for the Iraq war and has expressed deeply racists comments directly towards Obama – yet Obama and his campaign forgave him, but still hold hatred towards the Clintons (apparently for their ‘racism’ and Iraq war views)… go figure!

    Obama needed to unite the party and bring the Hillarycrats (yes, they have thoughts on things other than just abortion) back into his tent. Obama and the commentariat seemed to think the onus was on Hillary to unite the party – it was the other way round. So far, Obama has done nothing (and Hillary everything) to try and unite the party. Given the economic and political climate, Obama should be leading by 10-15%.

    I fear a McCain administration, but I can certainly sympathise with the Hillarycrats (maybe only 20%-30% of them) who will vote for McCain in November in protest.

    This election was dubbed the Democrats to loose – and if Obama continues to refuse to respect the Hillarycrats, he will loose it.

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