Sunday, November 1, 2009

Life Imitating Art: New York Edition

My last post centered around a set of example elections that serve to highlight the short-comings of instant runoff voting (IRV). Going into this Tuesday's election, we have two highly-publicized real-world elections that also perfectly highlight how IRV fails: the New Jersey governor race and special election for the US House seat for New York's 23rd district. Here, I will cover the New York race.

A lot is being made of what would, under any other circumstances, be a very minor race in upstate New York. What was expected to be a rather uninteresting race between moderate Democrat Bill Owens and equally-moderate Republican Dede Scozzafava, has been grabbing headline after headline since Conservative party candidate Doug Hoffman arrived on the scene.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and make a prediction, which I'll explain below: it will be close, but Hoffman will win. But that's not all: by a thin margin, he deserves to win.

First things first: Scozzafava's stepping out changes absolutely nothing. She was in third place under plurality, and even though she's a Republican, her and Hoffman were not about to split the (small-c) conservative vote. Hoffman's support, as 538 points out, was coming from voters who otherwise would be staying home. And even now that Sozzafava is out, her voters (at least the ones who won't now be staying home) will very nearly evenly divide between Hoffman and Owens. Which leaves Hoffman with a small, but noticeable, advantage. Were this election to be run under IRV, Scozzafava would be the first eliminated, and the results of the election would be exactly the same. IRVs results would mirror pluralities results (as is often the case.) But I'm okay with all of this because, in this case, they both agree with score voting.

I'm basing these numbers on the latest Daily Kos poll of the race (which if it can be accused of any bias, would be Democratic leaning, but meta-analysis has found them to be surprisingly honest and accurate.) To determine the score voting results of the election, I looked at the favorability scores, just like I did for the New Jersey governor race: "very favorable" = 4, "somewhat favorable" = 3; "somewhat unfavorable" = 1, and "very unfavorable" = 0. Since this poll doesn't separate "no opinion" from "haven't heard of candidate", I ran two separate sets of data; one where I treat all the "no opinion" scores as a 2, and one where I treat them all as an "X". Each candidate's real score will then be somewhere between these two values. Here's the data:

CandidateVery FavorableSomewhat FavorableSomewhat UnfavorableVery UnfavorableNo Opinion

Scozzafava ends up with a losing score no matter which way we count the "no opinion" column, somewhere between 1.8 and 1.7. Owens does much better, with somewhere between 2.1 and 2.2. But by a thin sliver, Hoffman takes the crown, with a low score of 2.2 and a high of 2.3. The only way Owens would win (modulo the margin of error of the poll) in a score voting adjudicated election would be if all the voters with no opinion of him voted that way because they had never heard of him and all the voters with no opinion of Hoffman voted that way because they knew him, but had a neutral opinion of him; if anything, the opposite if probably closer to the truth. Eyeballing the effect that margins of error could have on the result (which is a lot, since it's so close), I give Hoffman the advantage, 60:40, over Owens.

A lot will be made of the results of this highly-scrutinized election. But no matter how you slice the data, this is a painfully close election between the two remaining contenders. And the reason, to go back to 538's analysis, is because Hoffman has managed to excite a group of voters who otherwise wouldn't be voting.

Interestingly, the minutia of this poll doesn't fit the stereotype that most news outlets are trying to put on it: it's not a left vs. right vs. hard-right election. This is a ever-so-slightly-left vs. ever-so-slightly-right vs. I-hate-left-and-right election. Hoffman, and the voters in upstate New York, are refusing to fit the narrative. Hoffman will win (probably), but when he does, don't believe the spin you'll hear from Fox news about it: among the likely voters in NY-23, the same ones who are about to elect Hoffman to congress, Obama still has a net-positive favorability (he gets a score of 2.1.)


Since posting this, Scozzafava, the Republican who suspended her campaign on Saturday, has endorsed Owens, the Democrat. Also, several new polls have come out showing Hoffman's lead has skyrocketed. So my 60:40 odds are... kinda laughable now. Looks like it'll be Hoffman in a landslide.

1 comment:

  1. ...and now Scozzafava backs Owens, and PPP is coming out with a poll that shows a NINTEEN percent margin for Hoffman. Okay. It's total chaos up there :)