News Release: Politics, Research

Sep. 9,  2008

Election Forecast Predicts Obama in November

'Time for Change' model has predicted popular vote winner for past 20 years

Emory University political scientist and polling expert Alan Abramowitz has crunched the numbers for his presidential election forecast and has found in the data a potentially decisive win for the Democrats. His "time for change" model predicts that Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama will win the majority of the national major party popular vote: 54.3 percent vs. 45.7 percent for Sen. John McCain.

A popular vote margin of this magnitude would almost certainly translate into an overwhelming majority in the Electoral College, Abramowitz says. His forecast has correctly predicted the popular vote winner within two percentage points or less in every presidential election since 1988.

Three key factors form forecast

The state of the economy, presidential approval ratings and the number of terms a party has been in power are the three key factors Abramowitz uses in his "time for change" forecasting model.  

"While factors outside of the model, such as rising partisan polarization and resistance to an African-American candidate by some white voters may result in a somewhat smaller popular vote margin for the Democratic nominee, the combination of an unpopular Republican incumbent in the White House, a weak economy, and a second-term election make a Democratic victory in November all but certain," writes Abramowitz in the forthcoming October issue of "PS: Political Science and Politics."

"The good news for Democrats is that 2008, unlike 2004, is a time-for-change election -- one in which the president's party has controlled the White House for two or more terms," Abramowitz says. Based on the assumption that a presidential election is fundamentally a referendum on the performance of the incumbent, the model factors in:

  • The presidential approval rating in the final Gallup Poll in June (which ran 33% for President Bush);
  • The change in real gross domestic product during the second quarter of the election year; and
  • A variable based on whether the president’s party has controlled the White House for only one term or longer.

Power hard to hold after multiple terms

"Economic conditions have a substantial impact on the outcomes of presidential elections. For every additional one percentage point of real annual GDP growth during the second quarter, the candidate of the president's party can expect to receive an additional 0.6 percent of the vote. Thus, the difference between running with a stagnant economy and running with a booming economy is substantial," Abramowitz explains in his paper.

The final variable, the time-for-change factor, plays a critical role in the model.

"A candidate from the president’s party running in a second- or later-term election suffers a penalty of more than 4 percentage points compared with a candidate running in a first-term election… Regardless of the popularity of the president or the state of the economy, it is simply much more difficult for the president’s party to retain its hold on the White House," Abramowitz says.

Abramowitz is a nationally known expert on national politics and elections and the author of "Voice of the People: Elections and Voting in the United States." His expertise includes election forecasting models, party realignment in the United States, congressional elections and the effects of political campaigns on the electorate. Reach Alan Abramowitz, 404-727-0108.

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