As we approach the conclusion of the 2012 national election campaign, we
are witnessing an abundance of not only poll numbers, but political experts
touting patterns of past races and their statistics. There are some very smart
numbers folks (much smarter than I am!) commenting on this year's
presidential race, as well as U.S. house and senate races. Many of them have
demonstrated great skill in their approach to the mathematical sets of
commonalities in election results in the past, and they might do so again this
Usually, each of these "numbers" experts have their own pet statistical formula
or pattern which they cite as predictive of the final result. In the past, many of
these have been borne out. These patterns and formulas might be repeated this
year, but I want to offer a word of caution.
This is not a normal national election. I realize that each election has its own
character with its own set of personalities, events, and issues, and because so
much political power is at stake, its own sense of uniqueness and importance.
I would argue that beyond these typical quadrennial attributes, 2012 is a
different breed of political animal.
Much of the atypical quality of this cycle's elections is due to the incumbent
president and his policies and stated philosophy. Typical elections pit Democrats
and Republicans against each other, contrasting liberal and conservative ideas,
presenting different personalities, backgrounds and political styles. In 2012,
President Barack Obama has atypically chosen to present himself to the voter
as an advocate for policies more distant from the political center than incumbent
presidents usually do. These policies of redistribution of wealth, changes of
foreign policy in our relationship with the world, and with how Americans view
their economic system were not clear goals of Mr. Obama when he ran in 2008
on the very general rubric of "Hope and Change," but they are now.
His opponent, Mitt Romney, represents not only traditional U.S. policies, but he
appeals more directly to the American center. That is why, even when he was
trailing Mr. Obama in the polls, he was almost always leading among
so-called "independent" voters.
Mr. Obama may have correctly sensed a fundamental shift in U.S. voter
attitudes that fits his ideas and policies. He might have identified a new political
center. In that case, he will win the election.
On the other hand, considering the economic problems and high unemployment
which have existed chronically throughout his presidency, he and his campaign
might have chosen a very risky approach to the election, particularly in turning
away from the apparent political center, a political center which only two years
ago reacted very negatively to Mr. Obama's signature legislation, Obamacare,
and gave his opposition dramatic gains in the U.S. house and senate, including
clear control of the former.
Thus, the choice for voters in 2012 is much clearer than normally so.
My point is that past political patterns do not always recur in such an election.
The phrase "the exception that proves the rule" might be operative here.
We have already seen some initial evidence of this is the aftermath of the first
debate between Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama. No one seems to dispute that Mr.
Romney by a wide margin. But the general rule is that presidential debates make
only a marginal difference. In this case, the impact was very great, and Mr.
Romney has made unusually large statistical poll advances in a short period of
Of course, this current momentum may be short-lived. In fact, if the traditional
pattern is observed, it will be. On the other hand, should Mr. Romney's
momentum continue, I think it will be a signal that a new or different pattern
is being established.
We now have less than four weeks until election day. For those who find utility
in numbers, statistics and mathematical patterns, this year should prove an
interesting example of how political patterns stay the same --- or change.
Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.