General Question

shilolo's avatar

Is it even possible for John McCain to "win," credibly?

Asked by shilolo (18033points) November 3rd, 2008

With so many national and statewide polls pointing to an Obama victory (and likely landslide), would a “win” by McCain be viewed so skeptically by the American people as to be incredible?

I am aware of the history with Truman and Dewey, for those itching to bring that up. Back then however, pre-election polls were not so emphasized, nor did the media glare shine so brightly as it does today.

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24 Answers

dalepetrie's avatar

Question 1 – no

Question 2 – never underestimate the ability for the American people to be fooled. Those who pay attention will know it was stolen, those who don’t will think it’s the “Bradley Effect”.

EnzoX24's avatar

Certainly not, seeing as all of the tricks being seen towards Democrats. I’m not saying it isn’t possible, but if it does, all of those accounts of deception on the republicans’ art will (or must) be taken into consideration.

RandomMrdan's avatar

I think I will have given up on voting if McCain wins. Unless a popular voting system were to come up or something.

lapilofu's avatar

After analyzing the polls every day, FiveThirtyEight runs 10,000 computer simulations of the election to predict the odds of a particular candidate winning. They have a pretty good recent article detailing the notably few McCain win scenarios that their simulation generated.

If McCain does win… well, it’s statistically possible… but I’ll sooner suspect electoral fraud.

SoapChef's avatar

Dale said,
“Question 2 – never underestimate the ability for the American people to be fooled. Those who pay attention will know it was stolen, those who don’t will think it’s the “Bradley Effect”.”

Dale, don’t you think it could be a bit of both? I respect your opinions so much, so could you do me a favor and convince me there is no such thing as the “Bradley Effect”? (I would sleep better tonight.)

Ria777's avatar

it will happen if they will hack into the voting machines and make it look like a narrow victory, like in 2004.

Mizuki's avatar

I never underestimate the stupidity of the American people. McCain will “win.”

Stalin said, “It does not matter who casts a vote or for whom, but who counts the votes that matters.”

dalepetrie's avatar

“The Bradley Effect”, sometimes called “The Wilder Effect” is the theory that when a black candidate and a white candidate are running against each other, white people who don’t want to appear to be racist will tell pollsters that they are voting for the black candidate, but when they get into the voting booth, they will pull the lever for the white candidate. Bradley refers to Tom Bradley, a black man who lost the California governor’s race in 1982 despite being ahead by several points in the polls. In 1989, Douglas Wilder, a black candidate for governor in Virginia won by 1/2 a point despite being up by 9 points in the last polls.

One thing that the media however constantly glosses over is that even Bradley’s internal pollster doesn’t think there was a “Bradley Effect”. Essentially, early election night exit polling was indeed consistent with the polling which came in ahead of election night, and Bradley’s pollster saw that happening, but when Bradley lost, and they examined the returns, what they found out was that the reason Bradley lost was an overwhelming support for the other candidate in absentee ballots. Those absentee voters were not properly accounted for in the pre-election polling. Today, Bradley’s own pollster says there never WAS such a thing as the Bradley Effect, it all boils down to good polling vs. bad polling. Wilder (who actually won his race but saw 8.5 points shaved off his lead) saw the same swing for the same reason…i.e. polling captured everything but the absentee voters who were overwhelming in favor of the other candidate.

Consider that in the 1980s, most of the absentee ballots that were cast were sent in by members of the military, and historically (at least until recently) the military has been a monolithic voting bloc for the Republicans (both these candidates were Democrats).

So, at minimum, one must conclude that the phenomenon of people lying to pollsters is highly overstated, and I believe the reason it is so hyped up is that the Republicans want to make sure to find some distraction to blame the outcome on should their efforts to steal the election pay off. But to make you feel better about that, remember that Obama is too far ahead in too many states where McCain has to run the table, AND Democrats have built a firewall by electing Democratic Secretaries of State in many of the places where problems have occurred in the past. Let’s just say if this looked to be a one or two point race, Republicans might be able to steal this one, in a race that will at minimum be 5 1/2 points, and I suspect closer to 9, not so much chanc eof this happening.

Now, there have been other examples that people have pinned on the Bradley Effect, but if you look at them, each has factors other than lying to pollsters. Pollsters in fact expect they will be lied to, but what you find is that for every person who says they’re supporting candidate a, but pulls the lever for b, there’s one who says he’s voting for b and pulls the lever for a.

The next most persuasive thing I can tell you is to look at our society in 1982 vs. our society today. In 1982, we were less than 15 year outside the civil rights movement, racism was a LOT more blatant. The only black people on TV were Arnold and Willis. We were not yet an integrated society like we are today. Today, there is still racism, but I think we’ve learned that racism is really rooted in fear, generally fear of the unknown…i.e., if you as a white person don’t see a lot of black faces in your neighborhood, they seem somehow “exotic”, “scary”, “different”. It used to be that black America and white America were really a long ways apart…I mean even 10 years ago is was shocking to hear a black rock star or a white rapper, now people of all races and walks of life are commonplace just about everywhere…except for the more rural areas of the country, which are by and large more conservative AND more racist.

People who live far away from population centers are conservative by and large, they don’t want to change, they want life the way it’s always been. Part of that change is at times racial, and that is new to some of these people…doesn’t make them bad people, just scared people. And when most of the racism is based on fear and ignorance, what you get is pockets of unabashed racism, wherein people really are not afraid to tell you what they think, because they’re sheltered enough that they can speak their minds in their own social circles and not be ridiculed for it. So the small town, rural racism we’re seeing, either the people are so scared by the idea of a black President that they will be the first to tell you they wouldn’t vote for Obama because he’s black (usually not even the word of choice in fact). But if ANYTHING, if you live among a society where everyone you talk to says they can’t vote for Obama, if anything you as an Obama supporter are going to be less forthcoming.

But in 1982, we were starting to intergrate, we were starting to come together a bit, and whites if anything may have been seeing their sheltered existences come apart a little via intergration, it was becoming acceptable to point a finger at a white person and say, “that’s racist”, and there may well have been SOME people who felt guilty that essentially they were supporting the white guy when they knew the black guy was the better candidate, so that may have been a tiny factor. But now, NO ONE in a bigger urban area is going to feel that way…really what you have to look at is the rural voters who live in sheltered pockets where racism is a way of life, proudly embraced. Those who break from what is acceptable in polite society are the only ones who need fear anything (in ‘82 racism was not part of polite society and the spectre of being labeled a racist may have been scary to some who were coming to terms with intergration), so if ANYTHING, you will see a REVERSE Bradley Effect.

But what is most persuasive to me is that there has been no credible evidence to suggest any Bradley Effect anywhere in the US in any election in the last 10 years on the national stage. Indeed, most people who study it believe that if it ever existed in the first place, it disappeared in the early to mid 1990s once and for all.

And in case you hadn’t heard, the primary elections from all 50 states were studied by researchers at the University of Washington. What they found was that in states where there is a black population of 8% or less, there may have been a modest Bradley effect, in states with more than 25% black population, the reverse was true, and everywhere else it did not exist. Now, if you look at the states which have less than 8% African Americans, none of them are mysteries, they are either solidly McCain or solidly Obama. The vast majority of the country falls into the category of states where there is between 8 and 25%. And I think most visibly, there is one state, Georgia, which has a black population of over 25%, which is polling within a couple points for Obama, and I believe Georgia will go blue this time around because of the Reverse Bradley Effect.

But don’t take my word for it, go to and look at the Bradley Effect tag. They have debunked this thing so many times in so many ways that it’s no longer even funny when I hear someone say that is going to matter. They are in the business of aggregating polls and correcting for pollster introduced errors, plotting historical trends and coming up with a clear picture of what the polls really mean (because any one poll by itself can say anything in the world…but you have hundreds upon hundreds of polls telling you the same thing, it makes a coherent picture…that’s what 538 does, spend some time there, you will feel a lot better).

There are however 3 things that I think will play a significant role in this election:

1) The Cell phone problem. 538 did a recent piece on this too. Many younger voters (who happen to overwhelmingly support Obama) don’t even have land lines, and some pollsters aren’t reaching them. Remember what I said about absentee ballots being the factor that swung elections….cell phones will be this year’s absentee ballots.

2) Ground game. Another thing 538 has reported on constantly. They’ve gone to McCain HQ’s around the country to find them closed, or staffed by one person, repeatedly, but they’ll go to an Obama office in the same precinct (in fact they’ll say there are 2, 3, even 10 offices to every one McCain has) and they will be crammed with people and bustling with activity. Republicans have relied on a 72 hour get out the vote drive in past years, but Obama supporters have been pushing much harder than any given day in any past Republican 72 hour push, pretty much every day since June. The 72 hours wouldn’t be enough, and McCain has had to pretty much scrap the 72 hour plan this year to spend money in defensive advertising when Obama started advertising in North Dakota and Montana and Arizona!

3) New voters. This is the most important and feeds into #2 to a degree, but realize that in 2004, when Bush got 61 million votes and Kerry got 59 million, that 120 million was out of 210 million who COULD have voted, so there were 90 million people who didn’t vote. Obama has been reaching out to those people…something no on in recent history has done. And Obama’s ground game has been trying to get those less reliable, first time voters to the polls first via early voting.

Remember also that Obama has 5,000 lawyers on the ground ready to fight this battle if something happens.

So yeah, I don’t even think it’s close. I think if Obama ends up with less than 400 electoral votes, it’s an indicator of some fraud somewhere. But I think the Republicans were hoping it would be close enough that they could do a little selective cheating in 2 or 3 swing states, and then when people were shocked that it seemed like Obama was a couple points ahead in Ohio and Florida, so that when it got tipped by a couple points in a few counties here and there, the pre-packaged, much touted answer would be “Bradley Effect”, it’s all the media would talk about, and some computer geek somewhere who analysed the county by county results and found inconsistencies would never become newsworthy.

Don’t worry, Obama will win.

Mizuki's avatar

Thom Hartman is now interviewing a voting specialist who says the Ohio Central Tabulation Computer is routed through a private 3rd party server in Tenn., which can allow manipulation of results.

Maybe Jesus will flip the election to McCain.

MrItty's avatar

Polls cannot predict human Free Will. People who respond to polls can SAY they’re a “likely voter” and SAY that they’re going to vote for a certain candidate. Those results, however, tell us absolutely nothing about what they WILL do.

Therefore, yes, it’s entirely possible McCain could win. For all we know, 50% of all Obama supporters will not bother to actually drive to the polling location and pull the handle, figuring “look at all his supporters, my one vote doesn’t mean anything after all.”

Mizuki's avatar

MrItty—so black Obama supporters don’t have the tenacity to stand in long lines? Democrats out register republicans by 5 million, and turnout is historic IN SUPPORT OF THE STATUS QUO?

lapilofu's avatar

@MrItty, actually, that’s pretty much exactly what electoral statisticians do. They predict outcomes. The purpose of a (scrupulous) statistician is to predict how free will will be exercised on election day. And a good statistician will take into account as many relevant factors as possible, including trying to be sure that their sample counts only likely voters. That’s the point of polling likely voters.

Sure, anything can happen. But the statistician’s job is to show us that it probably won’t.

SoapChef's avatar

Thanks Dale, great answer as always. Maybe I can unclench for the rest of the day. Maybe I better go have a bran muffin.

MrItty's avatar

lapilofu, I’m reminded of an old joke.

“Three statisticians go duck hunting. The first one shoots at the duck, and misses by 15 feet too high. The second one shoots at the duck, and misses by 15 feet too low. The third one shouts, ‘We got him!!’”

MrItty's avatar

Mizuki, I choose not to dignify your unwaranted accusation of racism on my part with a response.

lapilofu's avatar

@MrItty: I’ll take your side when you prove that probability doesn’t exist.

MrItty's avatar

The question was not “Is it probable that McCain will lose”. The question was “Is it even possible”. And the answer is YES it is certainly possible.

It’s unlikely, it’s improbable. I listed one far-flung method by which the improbable could occur.

jvgr's avatar

If you consider the Bradley affect, you must also consider the anti-Bradley affect (poor white voters who vocally support McCain, but are likely to vote for Obama because it is in their economic interests to do so.

Yes it is possible for McCain to win honestly, but highly unlikely.

dalepetrie's avatar

Anything is possible. The question is whether it’s possible for McCain to win credibly. And barring some unforeseen event in the next 24 hours, it’s not possible for him to win in a manner that doesn’t raise suspicion if you view the polls in an educated manner.

No one poll can tell you anything, the more polls you have and the more analysis you put into them, the more they can tell you. A pattern emerges. Some facts are known. Some polls use likely voter models, some use registered voter models. Some have left leans, some have right leans. Some weight by partisan ID, some are random. But in aggregate, and again I can’t say enough about in this department, you can harness the power of polls collectively as a very sophisticated predictive tool. But like MrItty says, it’s unlikely and improbable, but there are far flung methods by which the improbably can occur. Again, 538 did a study of this as well, they assess McCain’s chances of winning at roughly 3.7%, but even their simulations produced a McCain win 370 times out of 10,000 runs. They did a post about what those few scenarios looked like.

But I’ll say this, if McCain wins under a scenario that this model didn’t even predict (like McCain wins California), you know something’s up. And even with the scenarios that are technically possible no single one of them happened with any great frequency, and each one of them would require some sort of systematic problem…either every single pollster got one piece of the puzzle wrong in a way that significantly oversampled Obama’s support, or there was some sort of behind the scenes trickery going on (or some unanticipated event like all the black people stayed home…which would require some sort of explanation, which would well be “they were intimidated into staying home”).

So, it’s really not “possible” as I see it for a McCain win to be “credible”, which was the question. It’s possible, but highly unlikely, that he will win, but the big question is, if he does win, will those who cheated to make it happen (the most likely scenario under which he could win) be able to steer the media coverage to the much ballyhooed Bradley Effect and away from the truth? I say it’s not only possible, given 2000 and 2004, and the ability of the public at large to believe what they want to believe, it is very plausible.

However, again, I can’t re-iterate enough, the cheating would have to be far more widespread than anything we’ve ever seen, it would have to make the last 2 elections look like child’s play. And having seen the competency level of McCain’s campaign, and the lack of enthusiasm for him on the right, I just don’t think it’s worth worrying about.

Nonetheless, get out and vote. The bigger Obama’s mandate, the more we can get done!

jvgr's avatar

Additional information HERE

Mizuki's avatar

McCain lost his credibility in 2004, no?

SoapChef's avatar

@ mizuki Yes, that and I think he lost his credibility back during the Vietnam war when he immediately started squealing to his captors that he was the son/grandson of Admirals so he would get preferential treatment.

dalepetrie's avatar

McCain never had any credibility to begin with, he just convinced people he did:

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