Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Obama and the Storm

It's a popular narrative among Republican types to blame Hurricane Sandy (and N.J. Gov. Chris Christie) for Obama's win this week.

Is it true?

First off, most models had Romney's momentum ending about Oct. 15, long before the storm hit.  Given the stunning accuracy of these models by Nate Silver, Sam Wang, and the rest of the nerdgeek squad, it's hard to argue against them.

And yet, and yet.

In exit polls of actual living breathing voters, 3 percent said they decided on Election Day who to vote for.  Another 6 percent said they decided "in the last few days."  This has the potential of supporting the Sandy Hypothesis.  After all, these late deciders broke for Obama, about 50-45 percent.  Not huge, but perhaps meaningful.  Voters were also asked how they would rate Obama's response to the storm in the role it played in their own vote.  Below, a breakdown:

Most Important Factor     15%
An Important Factor        27%
A Minor Factor                 22%
Not a Factor                    31%

These numbers suggest even more support for the Sandy Hypothesis.  After all, 42 percent gave Obama's response some kind of importance in their vote.  Among those who called it important, they cut for Obama over Romney by an almost 2-to-1 margin.

Yes, but here's what we don't know -- are the "important factor" folks also the late deciders?  And were they in key swing states?  After all, if a bunch of Illinois or California folks are in there, it really doesn't matter.  Those states were decided long ago.  I won't know more until I get my grubby little number-crunching hands on the raw data. 

My conclusion (so far): The Sandy Hypothesis remains untested.  The compelling forecast models (who were, after all, mostly right) argue the storm made no real difference despite what the conservative pundits (who were, after all, mostly wrong) say.  When I have the raw data I can crosstab it to death and examine whether late deciders were in key states and also voters who called the storm important in their decision.

My hunch?  Some did base their decision on the storm.  My other hunch?  Not enough did to explain the results seen Tuesday.  Still, a hypothesis deserves a fair test with some pretense of methodological rigor beyond the "feel it in their gut" bullshit you get from many pundits. 

And ultimately, what's wrong with basing your vote on how a president handles a recent crisis?  Nothing at all, best I can tell.  If Obama had blown his handling of Hurricane Sandy, you can be damn sure certain pundits of an ideological persuasion would've argued in favor of it playing a role in the vote. 

That's the problem with partisan pundits.  They're partisan.

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