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Political scientists predict presidential election

Are you ready to call the election? Mitt Romney certainly isn't, nor for that matter is President Obama. But a few hardy academics have done so. Out now are a baker's dozen forecasts produced by political scientists that predict the outcome in November.

Polls give Obama the advantage, nationally and in most of the battleground states, but they are, as is often said, snapshots in time, not predictions of the future. The election forecasts are in fact predictions, based on various and varied statistical models. Most give the advantage to the president, but the verdict is not unanimous.

The 13 projections are contained in the new issue of PS: Political Science and Politics, which is published by the American Political Science Association. Eight of them project that Obama will win the popular vote; five say the popular vote will go to Romney. But the degree of certainty in those forecasts differs. One projection favoring the president says there is an 88 percent certainty that he'll win, while two others forecasting Obama say there is only a 57 percent certainty.

One of the most bullish of the Obama-will-win projections comes from Helmut Norpoth, a professor at Stony Brook University, and Michael Bednarczuk, a grad student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. They wrote that Obama will defeat Romney "by a comfortable margin."

Their projection, made 299 days before the election, is based on a model that takes into account the performance of the candidates in the primaries and presidential election cycles. "In plain English," they wrote, "Obama has history on his side as well as the fact that he was unchallenged in the primaries."

One of the most bearish about the president's prospects is Alfred G. Cuzan, the department chairman at the University of West Florida. He notes that since 1880, a sitting president has lost his reelection bid only six times, and only twice when the incumbent had succeeded a president of a different party.

But Cuzan, whose model is called the "Fiscal Model," looks at changes in government spending relative to the size of the economy as his guide. He argues that the expansionary spending policies of the president dim his chances of winning.

"Even if he does squeeze by the Republican candidate," Cuzan wrote, "it is highly likely that President Obama would do so with a smaller share of the vote than in 2008, the first president in well over a century to be re-elected to a second term by a thinner margin of victory than he received the first time around."

Veteran modeler Michael Lewis-Beck of the University of Iowa and Charles Tien, the department chairman at Hunter College in New York, offer contrasting forecasts based on competing models.

A traditional "Jobs Model" shows Obama in deep trouble. But using a different model, they see Obama winning. Forced to choose between the two, they stick to the jobs model, which shows Obama capturing about 48 percent of the vote. Conceding that any inherent margin for error could result in an Obama victory, they nonetheless concluded, "It still suggests an Obama victory is unlikely."

Three models attempt to project Electoral College results rather than the popular vote. One projects Obama with 213 electoral votes, another with 324 electoral votes (but allows that Romney could win) and a third with 301 votes while acknowledging "a great deal of uncertainty about the outcome."

Political scientists predict presidential election 09/29/12 [Last modified: Saturday, September 29, 2012 10:46pm]
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