Fordham Notes: How Did the Pollsters Fare?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

How Did the Pollsters Fare?

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama earned a second term in the White House with a clear victory in the Electoral College but only 50 percent of the popular vote. It’s a percentage that political scientists projected long before voters went to the polls, said Costas Panagopoulos, Ph.D., director of Fordham University’s Center for Electoral Politics and Democracy.

On Oct. 23, Panagopoulos discussed various presidential election-forecasting models and shared the latest polling data with a gathering of alumni and friends at the Hotel Sofitel. “2012: A Race Odyssey” marked the New York City debut of Fordham at the Forefront, a new series of events sponsored by the Office of Alumni Relations.

“The median forecast is an estimate of 50.6 percent for Obama, a very slight advantage for the president,” said Panagopoulos, assistant professor of political science at Fordham, and director of the University’s graduate program in elections and campaign management, “But depending on what states those votes are in could end up deciding the outcome of the election.”
Costas Panagopoulos, Ph.D.

Panagopoulos added: “Political scientists are actually quite good at predicting what will happen in presidential elections.”

(See what polling organization made the top of the list of Panagopoulos' rankings of accuracy in pre-election polling.)

For the 2008 presidential election, nine out of 10 national forecasters predicted Obama winning the two-party popular vote. Alan Abramowitz, the Alben W. Barkley Professor of Political Science at Emory University, projected in his Time for a Change model that John McCain would get 45.7 percent of the two-party vote in 2008. “McCain ultimately got 46.3 percent of the major party vote,” said Panagopoulos. “[The model was] only off by half a percentage point.” In the 2012 forecasts, Abramowitz projected Obama winning 50.6 percent of the popular vote.

“Some of these models were estimated three, four months, sometimes almost up to a year before Election Day, before we even knew who the candidates were,” Panagopoulos said. “It may cause you to wonder if campaigns matter at all if you can come this close to predicting what’s going to happen long before the campaign unfolds.”

The Fordham at the Forefront series was launched on Oct. 1 in Atlanta, where Panagopoulos also spoke about the presidential debates and campaigns. More than 65 alumni attended the New York lecture and reception, representing nine out of Fordham’s 10 schools and colleges and a wide range of class years.

The Office of Alumni Relations intends to host several Forefront events throughout the year in the New York City metro area and around the country, highlighting Fordham faculty members’ expertise in such areas as trust in business, sustainability, and healthcare reform.

“Alumni will always be able to count on Fordham at the Forefront for an engaging presentation and discussion about things that matter in the world,” said Michael Griffin, assistant vice president for alumni relations. “We want to deliver lifelong learning to Fordham alumni and we want to demonstrate Fordham’s leadership in areas of universal significance.”

—Rachel Buttner

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