(This blog has nothing to do with tech). So yeah, regular readers know one of my passions is the US elections. And we're now ten days from the 'Midterm' elections that occur at the half-point of any 4 year US President's term. At this election there is thus no President to vote for, but Senators, Governors, and various elected officials from Congress to Mayor etc. The election is on Tuesday 4 November. I'm of course monitoring the campaigning and just want to post my thoughts here less than two weeks from the election on what I think will happen (and why).
So a bit of the basics. This year 2014 was (and still is) technically going to be a 'bad' year for Democrats. There are more registered Democrats than Republicans, but Republicans vote more reliably than Democrats. The Democrats tend to show up well for Presidential elections but not for the Midterms. So there is usually a significant drop-off in the Democratic turnout (or actually of both, but far more so for DEMs). At the last Mid-terms (2010, two years after Obama was first elected in 2008) the Republicans (aka GOP, the Grand Old Party) had a big 'wave' of enthusiastic 'Tea Party' supporters (extreme right wing) and they got such a good election result that they took over the House of Representatives which they still today hold in majority. But the DEMs hold the Presidency until at least 2016 and they hold the Senate right now with a nice 55 to 45 margin (there are 100 Senators, 2 for each of the 50 states).
And why is this relevant? The US law-making is structured so, that any law has to pass both houses, so the House can write the law, then send it to the Senate who also agree with it. Only if both 'houses' agree, the law is then sent to the President for his signature. Equally the Senate can write the law but then has to send it to the House of Representatives for approval before it can be sent to the President for his signature and only after that it becomes law. The House is now controlled by Republicans. They hate Obama, and they want to pass laws that would limit what Obama can do, or undo things he's done so far, like repealing Obamacare the new healthcare system. But as long as the DEMs control the Senate, if the DEMs just don't approve that law the House of Representatives has written, it will never even get to Obama's desk. So that has been pretty much most of the past 4 years, the GOP passing all sorts of silly laws that have zero chance of acceptance by Democrats, but now the Republicans can go back home to their voters and say 'we passed this law but the Democrats are blocking it.'
That would change if the GOP gets hold of hte Senate, then they could send laws to Obama and then try to bully him to sign the laws even if he doesn't like them. Or if two thirds of the Senators and House Members agree, it is then a law that doesn't need the President's signature.
So if you've 'enjoyed' gridlock in US government like the threats of government shut-down and not paying its bills etc, if the Republicans get to the Senate too, that kind of power-games could greatly increase. Or its also possible that the President and the Republicans reach a compromise like Bill Clinton did back when he found himself in this situation late in his Presidency, and they actually did get good laws passed when both were willing to compromise.
So, anyway, currently the Democrats hold the Presidency and one of the two chambers, ie the Senate. And the Republicans hold the other chamber ie 'Congress' (aka The House). Now ten days from today the election is mostly about who will control the Senate for the next two years. And here still more details. The Senate term is 6 years, so one third of the Senate is voted for any election that runs every 2 years. So sometimes a Senator is in the Presidential election year, but then the next time that Senator's re-election will be in the 'Midterm' year and so forth. Meanwhile Congress only has a 2 year term so they have to be re-elected every election every two years.
In many states, members of Congress have been able to manipulate their election 'districts' so, that in a given State that has say 40% Democratic support and 60% Republican support and 5 Congressmen, the 'normal' distribution would be 2 Congressmen for DEMs and 3 for GOP. But they've re-drawn the voting districts so, that the DEM supporters are all bunched together. So now one Democratic Congressman or -woman will win that one district by for example 80% but then there aren't enough DEM supporters left and the GOP safely wins the remaining 4 seats. And these seats are now all heavily Republican so they also become ever more 'pure' not having to think about compromise - the Tea Party thrives in such situations.
Senators however, have to get votes from half of the state (2 Senators per state). So while there still can be this kind of 'gerrymandering' shenanigans, the Senators tend to be much more 'mainstream' and not as extreme as the members of Congess can be. And as the USA is rather evenly split, slightly more Democrats than Republicans but in mid-terms Republicans vote more reliably, the rough balance of this election should be close to even. No real panic for DEMs.
Except that this was a rare election for the Senate that happens by coincidence to greatly favor the GOP. There were a couple of very well-liked DEM Senators who suddenly announced they are quitting after many terms. So seats that used to be 'safe' are now 'open'. And worse, this year's Senator class includes the Obama wave of 2008 (six years ago). So many first-time Senators elected with Obama are now up for re-election. And those were often Democrats who were competing in states that usually vote reliably Republican. So recently the polling has been very consistently suggesting that the Democrats will lose many Senator seats. And the averages of those polls, as reported at Real Clear Politics, have had a consistent prediction that the Republicans will win enough seats to take over the Senate.
And I do not disagree with those polls. I am reasonably satisfied that the consensus is accurate and based just on polling and public opinion, if the election was held today, the Republicans would take perhaps 7 seats and have a 51-49 majority in the Senate.
The movement in the last days is also problematic for the Democrats ie looking good for Republicans, if you subscribe to the theory that in tight races, the last days will tend to break for the 'normal' condition of that State. If it is Connecticut, that is a reliably Democratic state so the last voters will tend to vote more Democratic than Republican. If the state is Kansas, that is a reliably Republican state and by the same logic the last decisions will tend to favor the normal voting condition in that state. And again, there are many Democratic seats now contested, which are in normally-Republican states (like Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina). These freshman-Senators had the luck to come in with Obama's big election wave but are now quite vulnerable.
So ten days to the election, there are a few tight races that will decide is it going to go one way or the other. It think by now its almost certain that DEMs will keep the Senate seats they have in New Hampshire (Shaheen) and North Carolina (Hagan). These are very tight contests and the Democrats are up by just a point or two but also their leads have been rather consistent. With the advantage I'll discuss in just a moment, these will turn from very tight to close races that DEMs will win.
But the Republicans will take back several Senate seats that have been considered close. I think they'll take back South Dakota (open seat), Louisiana (Landrieu), Arkansas (Pryor) and Alaska (Begich). There are three Republican seats in play, which were all surprises (were not supposed to be competitive, ie were supposed to be safe for the GOP) ie Kansas, Kentucky and Georgia. In Kansas the Democratic candidate dropped out, so that the contest would be between the Republican incumbent and an 'Independent' candidate that the DEMs hope will then mostly vote with them, not voting with the GOP in the Senate. This Kansas vote I think will end up going to the Republicans so Roberts will keep his seat. The thing I talk about next here, will not apply to the Independent challenger.
I PREDICT GOP PICKS UP ONLY 4 SEATS IN THE SENATE
So what of the last, and essentially the tightest races? I think Democrats will hold the Colorado seat (Udall) and the Iowa seat (open was held by Democrat) which will be won by Democrat Braley. And I think Democrats will then stun the GOP by stealing two seats that were supposed to be safe GOP, the Georgia (open, was held by Republicans) and biggest insult to them, Kentucky (McConnell). Why Kentucky is insult? Mitch McConnell is the Senate Leader of the Republican party. So after these changes, the Democrats would have 52 seats and the Republicans 48 and the Senate control would stay safely with the DEMs.
WHY WOULD THE POLLS BE SO WRONG?
Ok the polls are very tight in these races, one or two, maybe three points is the margin currently, so I'm not predicting huge upsets, but yes, for this many Democratic 'wins' when they are so vulnerable, yes, this needs some explanation.
I base this on the 'ground game' ie the GOTV - Get Out The Vote - part of the campaign. This has always been a strong suite for the Democrats. Usually Republicans have more money, and will do heavy TV ads and robocalls etc, but the Democrats have more volunteers and on election day especially, have more 'troops' to help get-out-the-vote.
But surely that is factored into the polling data? Yes, it is. By 'normal' models yes. The pollsters have their own mathematical models by which they adjust the raw polling data, to then reflect how well do the various parties get their voters to the polls on election day (and as I said, DEMs are usually worse at this on Midterm elections than the GOP).
RETURN OF THE NARWHAL
So what then? Ah, its that Narwhal project from Obama 2012 campaign. Obama doesn't need Narwhal anymore but of course Obama wants to ensure his last 2 years are not living hell on Capitol Hill, so he much prefers that the Senate stays Democratic. So he's long ago given the Narwhal system to the Democratic party for use in these Midterms and no doubt, for Hillary's 2016 campaign and the future forever after.
What is/was Narwhal? I wrote two deep analysis of it after the 2012 election. Read the details here. But briefly, Narwhal was the largest-ever database and analytics system designed for use in elections. Massively expensive, it was one of the largest computerized database systems on the planet so rivaling say the IRS tax systems of the USA, or the spying tech used by the US spy agencies, far larger than say banking or credit card loyalty system data etc.
Narwhal collected data on all viable voters in the USA. If they were registered or not. If they had a preference by party. If they had voted before. If they had expressed any indication of support for either party or candidate. And then Obama's team contacted personally each candidate that might be willing to support Obama (only removing those who were clearly fully Romney supporters). And Narwhal collected two attributes for every registered voter: The score of how much they liked or disliked Obama - on a scale of 1 to 100. And the score of how likely were they to vote on Election day, also on a score from 1 to 100.
Can you imagine how incredibly powerful this database then became? Narwhal also had the contact info, mobile phone numbers, snailmail addresses, Facebook accounts, Twitter handles etc etc etc. And they entered into Narwhal the info of who had voted. So with early voting, and then election day voting, they kept updating Narwhal on real-time data on who has already voted and who is yet to vote.
So for example on election day, Narwhal directed the volunteers to hit the most beneficial voter contacts. If someone had voted, no sense wasting the call or visit. If the voter was a Romney supporter, no sense in wasting the contact. If the voter had not voted, but Narwhal had a high probability that this voter will vote still today (such as will vote on the way home from work) and is already a high Obama supporter, then that person doesn't need a reminder contact today. Again no wasted effort.
Then Narwhal had left those who were leaning towards Obama or unsure, and were not quite certain if they'd bother to vote on Election day. Those people were reminded and contacted and if necessary, the Obama team arranged carpooling transport to help them get to the polling place, etc.
If you are reading this from a modern digital/social/mobile marketing background, you might think this is quite 'reasonable' and perhaps 'normal'. It is totally not. You know what Romney's team did? What every other campaign in history has done? What Obama's own campaign still was doing in 2008? They did it the old-fashioned way. They monitored how the voting was happening, and then they directed phone calls (in the case of Team Romney, these were not humans calling, it was robocalls ie recordings) to those counties and districts, where the population was more Republican than Democratic.
No accuracy or intelligence. Some calls went to numbers of people who had already voted. Some would go to the wrong people (ie calling a Democrat accidentially, from the Romney campaign, urging them to go vote) and most people don't listen to the robocalls when they notice its a recording anyway.
Yet Romney's Project Orca was able to direct more Republican voters to the polls. They were able to see success. The Romney campaign DID achieve more votes against Obama than what the McCain campaign had done four years before. The Romney campaign did believe, based on what they observed and measured, that they were winning the election.
But Obama's team knew. The Narwhal system is also the world's most accurate election forecast measurement system far far more accurate than the largest consumer polling done by Gallup or Nielsen or any consumer polling organizations. Narwhal accurately predicted the outcome of every state election and got even the percentage split always within one percentage point. No other forecaster was that accurate. So Obama's team knew as the last months of the campaign were running, exactly what was the score, and they knew on election day exactly how it was going. They were not freaking out at all. They were calmly confident, they were going to win almost as many states as Obama won against McCain four years before, in that landslide election. And Obama did this when the economy was so bad, no incumbent before had ever managed to win under such bad economic conditions. And Obama the law professor non-businessman was going to win easily over Romney the megamillionaire businessman when the Economy was the biggest worry on the minds of voters in 2012.
Thats Narwhal. Thats why DEMs will now eke out wins of a pecentage or two in elections they were supposed to lose by a point or two. And yes, the Republicans have not yet built their Narwhal clone.
I did my analysis on this blog last year about the impact of the Narwhal project to the final election outcome in terms of votes added. I wrote this "Team Obama powered by its Narwhal machine, made twice as many contacts, hit three times as many of its own registered voters (or voters leaning Democratic), achieved four times as many contacts with its own voters, and the real number where it matters, ended up activating five times more voters than Team Romney, powered by its Orca machine." (emphasis in the original). Here is the full analysis including all numbers. So the direct impact of Narwhal vs Orca was a net gain of 8.1 million votes to Obama. Obama's actual margin of victory was only 5 million votes. If Romney had kept Orca but Obama didn't have Narwhal, we'd now know the US President as Mitt Romney whose razor-tight election victory would have been 51% to 49%. Instead Obama won by 52% to 47%. The technical edge of using this advanced super-targeted voting-day activation machine is worth about 3% of the vote on election day. Based on that, I am calling it that DEMs will keep Colorado and Iowa (as well as New Hampshire and North Carolina where they now have a slight lead) and Democrats will stun the Republicans by stealing two seats both in reliably-Republican states, Kentucky and Georgia.
Obviously this is just my hobby-guess. We'll know in ten days. But I will be watching the voting come in and lets see how I did in my first-ever public forecast of a Midterm election (I've done a few of US Presidential elections of course in the past). After November 4, if the Senate new balance is 52 to 48 in favor of the DEMs, my forecast would have been correct.
Also based on the same reasoning, I predict many gains in Governorships and some gains in the Congress but not enough for DEMs to re-take the Congress. Republicans will still hold majority in that chamber.
(there were several techincal errors in the original posting which were kindly pointed out by reader Baron95. I have corrected those)