Statistics, Graphs at Heart of Election Analysis

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 3, 2009 | Go to article overview

Statistics, Graphs at Heart of Election Analysis


Byline: Carrie Sheffield, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The best part of NBC White House correspondent Chuck Todd's new book is its first few pages. He and his co-author, Sheldon Gawiser, NBC's elections director, describe hard-fought primary battles, campaign intrigue and fascinating behind-the-scenes tidbits of the 2008 presidential race.

We learn why Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton chose to sit out the presidential race in 2004, her initial assessment of rival Sen. Barack Obama and exactly what felled former New York Gov. Rudolph W. Giuliani. Beyond its introductory chapters, however, the book reads like a pared-down version of the venerable Almanac of American Politics, the 1,800-plus-page biennial volume produced by Mr. Todd's former employer, the National Journal group. That means it's heavy on statistics and demographic profiles and short on meatier narrations and anecdotes.

The bulk of the book presents a postmortem analysis of exit polling from each of the 50 states, relying heavily on graphical presentations of top-line research data. We don't learn much about polling methodology throughout the book, although there's a 1 1/2-page explanation at the very end (we learn polling was done by the New Jersey firm Edison Media Research as part of the National Election Pool, jointly commissioned by the major television networks and Associated Press) and a blurb about how to get outside methodological information for each poll.

Though it may be lacking in literary prowess, the book is a valuable resource for political junkies who want a detailed and timely dissection of how Mr. Obama claimed his historic victory. Its virtue is in its details, which aggregate to a comprehensive snapshot of the American political landscape and where things are demographically. We learn the top 10 states with the highest and lowest proportions of various races, ages religions and ideologies. The authors categorize each of the 50 states as Battleground (eight states), Receding Battleground (seven states), Emerging Battleground (five states) or Red and Blue (30 states solidly in one party's camp) and give their rationale for these distinctions.

Mr. Todd and Mr. Gawiser ponder whether Mr. Obama's race hurt him in West Virginia (it's unclear - though the Democratic candidate did lose by the same margin in 2008 as Sen. John Kerry lost in 2004), whether Michigan could have turned red if Sen. John McCain had chosen former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney instead of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for his running mate and if Democrats will wrest control of Arizona in 2012 (highly likely, the authors argue, considering its growing Hispanic population and that Mr. McCain's home-state advantage won him just a single-digit victory over Mr. …

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Statistics, Graphs at Heart of Election Analysis
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