Academic political scientists tend to discount the value of opinion polls as predictors of presidential elections and tend to look at the so-called ‘fundamentals’. They construct models that correlate vote percentages with data that can be quantified. The ‘Bread and Peace’ model of Douglass Hibbs that I have written about recently is one such model that uses disposable income and wartime casualties as the independent variables. Of course, there exist a whole range of independent variables that one can choose to use in one’s regression calculations and they each predict different outcomes.
While the Hibbs and some other models seem to predict that president Obama should lose handily to Mitt Romney, opinion polls show him clinging to a small but persistent lead.
On the surface, the 2000 election seemed to provide another anomalous result for the fundamentals models. On the basis of some models (such as Hibbs’s), it seemed as if Al Gore should have won easily but the final result gave him just a wafer thin victory in the total vote. As a result of that election, people speculated about the various non-fundamentals such as style and political missteps as explanations. But Larry M. Bartels and John Zaller published an article in the March 2001 issue of the journal PS: Political Science and Politics found that when one examined the aggregate of all the different models, the result did predict a close outcome.
In any case, our primary point is that specific explanations of the 2000 result are quite superfluous. Given the systematic, predictable effects of the economic and political “fundamentals” embodied in our 48 regression models, there is simply nothing special about the 2000 election outcome to be explained, Indeed, to a greater extent than most elections, 2000’s really did come out the way it “should” have, at least with respect to the national popular vote.
The idea that one should look at the average predictions of all the models seems to have become the new conventional wisdom. A political scientist colleague of mine who follows these things closely says that currently the average gives Obama a very narrow and unstable lead and that the Hibbs model is at the low end of the range for his vote total.
The October issue of PS: Political Science and Politics will feature the predictions of these models for the coming election and I will report on them as soon as they are released.