Monday, November 19, 2012

Crystal-Ball Report Card: 2012 Season

We're entering a lull in prediction season, but that doesn't mean we're done talking about predictions. It's easy for people to make forecasts, but disappointingly few follow up on them to see how they shook out—and, even then, it's usually only the people who hit the nail on the head looking to gloat. In the name of accountability, I wanted to look back on the predictions I've made over the past year—and hopefully learn something about more accurate forecasting in the future as a result.

Specifically, I want to take a look at my predictions for the 2012 MLB season, broken down by division: AL East, AL Central, AL West, NL East, NL Central, and NL West. More recently, I also made picks about how I thought the November elections would go, but (a) I've hashed through those pretty well on Twitter and (b) I don't think an article in which I gloat about hitting the nail on the head would be very interesting. My MLB predictions, on the other hand, were much more of a mixed bag.

Back in March and April, I calculated the specific win-loss records that I thought each team would end the season with. Let's start by looking at how I did with the raw numbers:

Next we'll dive into some of the specific claims I made.

Prediction: Both the Orioles and Athletics would stink up the joint on their ways to respective last-place finishes.
What Really Happened: In my defense, I said that the Orioles were "hardly an atrocious team and have the potential to play some watchable ball this year"; I called the Athletics "the division's most interesting—and most unpredictable—team." But no one could have predicted all those Ws. The A's and O's stunned the baseball world by threatening all season to win their respective divisions—two of the strongest in baseball. My error was in overestimating the strength of some of the other teams in those brackets. I was convinced that the Rangers and Angels would both be powerhouses; instead, the $55 million A's stole the division crown from both of them. I was particularly wrong about the Angels, whose shaky starting pitching caused them to win 11 fewer games than I thought they would.

Prediction: The Red Sox would not be a playoff team, but they would win 88 games.
What Really Happened: The Red Sox lost 90 games for the first time since 1965. This was a team that completely imploded under the leadership—if you can call it that—of Bobby Valentine. More relevantly, Boston's pitching just fell apart. I was skeptical about the team because I saw that it had "only two sure-thing starters (Jon Lester and Josh Beckett)" plus a handful of pitchers with promise. It turns out that none of that promise was fulfilled (Daniel Bard, in particular, was a mess) and their sure things forgot how to make outs. At the very least, my observation that, "when they bled, they could not clot" proved accurate, as the franchise hemorrhaged losses and fans all year long.

Prediction: The Tigers would win the AL Central, but more by default than domination; the team would actually be kind of mediocre, with only 89 wins.
What Really Happened: Exactly that... sort of. The Tigers limped to the division crown with 88 wins thanks to the same liabilities that I predicted: a ghastly defense and a middling offense. I correctly called Alex Avila's and Jhonny Peralta's falls back down to earth, though I also wrongly called out Austin Jackson for being an underachiever. But then, of course, the whole team made me feel a little silly when it dominated its way to the World Series.

Prediction: The White Sox would finish second in the AL Central. Jake Peavy, Chris Sale, Gavin Floyd, and John Danks would form a dominating starting rotation; Adam Dunn would bounce back to become a middle-of-the-order threat.
What Really Happened: The White Sox did even better than I expected (I still had them finishing slightly below .500), getting bounceback seasons out of not only Adam Dunn, but also Alex Ríos, whom I had given up on. Gavin Floyd wasn't reliable, and John Danks was lost to injury, but the rest of the pitching staff stepped up to fall just short of the fewest runs allowed in the division. I was particularly prophetic on the seasons of prospect Sale and injury question mark Peavy.

Prediction: Of the top four teams in the NL East, "each team is capable of dominating to the tune of 100 wins (yes, even the Nationals), and each team could collapse like a house of cards to below .500 (yes, even the Phillies). The one certainty—and, in my opinion, the safest bet in all of baseball this year—is that a certain team from New York will sink comfortably to the bottom."
What Really Happened: What was certain was wrong, and what seemed fanciful became reality. The Mets finished fourth in the NL East, guaranteeing my premature retirement from sports gambling; I foresaw Johan Santana's inconsistency and Jason Bay's suckitude but failed to account for David Wright's resurgence and the force of nature that is RA Dickey. Meanwhile, the Nats came close to those 100 wins and the Phillies finished at exactly .500. This fascinating division deserves some more broken-down analysis, though...

Prediction: Reports of the Phillies' demise would be greatly exaggerated. While the loss of Roy Oswalt would take a few wins off their 2011 total, they would still be a dominating pitching team and the class of the National League.
What Really Happened: Uh, oops. Many others saw this coming, but I guess I missed the warning signs. Roy Halladay lost time due to injury, and even when he pitched, he was mediocre (4.49 ERA); meanwhile, Cliff Lee forgot how to win (only six of them over a full year). As a result, they had only the division's third-best pitching. I was slightly redeemed when it turned out that the Philadelphia offense, which everyone else saw as ripe for a collapse, only weakened incrementally—consistent with what happens when a team gets one year older. Still, my claim that Philly would have "the best offense in the division" due to others' weakness was way off base (they had the third-best).

Prediction: The Nats would be the breakout team of 2012, pitching their way to a playoff berth. The additions of Edwin Jackson, Gio González, and Stephen Strasburg (back from injury) would add anywhere from nine to 18 wins to their total of 80 from 2011, and they would possibly lead the majors in ERA.
What Really Happened: It was 18 wins, not nine, and they had the second-best ERA in the majors, but I nailed everything else. The Nats as contenders was one of the preseason predictions I argued most forcefully for, and I didn't see a way (beyond injury) that their fearsome foursome of starters wouldn't improve the Nats' fortunes dramatically. What I didn't see was that their offense would mature as well; they had the division's best. Maybe I should have, though—I specifically predicted that Adam LaRoche's 25-home-run power would return (he hit 33).

Prediction: Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor—not the injury-prone Tim Hudson and Tommy Hanson—would lead the Braves to a Wild Card berth.
What Really Happened: Beachy was dominant but was lost to Tommy John surgery in June. Minor ended up struggling to a 4.12 ERA, and Hanson was actually healthy all year—though he also provided lukewarm results. It was pitchers who came out of seemingly nowhere to give the Braves their boost: Paul Maholm, acquired in a trade from the Cubs, and Kris Medlen, whose 1.57 ERA in 138 innings remains the seminal stat of the 2012 Braves season. But hey, at least I got the Wild Card berth right.

Prediction: The Marlins would finish in fourth place with only 85 wins, the victims of overrated offseason signings.
What Really Happened: The Marlins did a lot worse, losing 16 more games than I thought. But, in my defense, the tone of my Marlins preseason rundown was hardly positive. I saw the José Reyes signing as akin to adding an average shortstop, the Heath Bell signing as basically pointless (most relievers are), and the Mark Buehrle signing as useful, but only to replace the likely-to-be-injured Josh Johnson (for a net gain of zero). Reyes ended up avoiding the DL and being a quality regular, but he couldn't make up for the absence (in spirit and then in reality) of Hanley Ramírez's potent bat from the middle of the lineup. Where I was most wrong was in saying that, while they would not make the playoffs because they had so much ground to make up, "this is an improved team, no question"; turns out there was a question, as they lost three more games than in 2011.

Prediction: The Brewers would win the NL Central. Aramis Ramírez would replace Prince Fielder's pop in the lineup, and their 2011-division-winning pitching staff would continue to be quietly solid.
What Really Happened: I truly believe the Brewers would have won the division again in 2012 if their pitching staff—specifically, their bullpen—hadn't been so very loudly awful. The Brewers actually scored 55 more runs in 2012 than they did with Fielder in 2011; Ramírez filled in very nicely, turning in an even better season than his excellent 2011. Their starters also had a 3.99 ERA, again jibing with my prognostication. Their bullpen, however, was the league's worst, with a 4.66 ERA, 33 losses, and 29 blown saves! With bullpen performance being one of the most fickle things about baseball from year to year, if Milwaukee could play the season over, I think they'd have a different result. Look, too, for them to improve almost automatically in 2013.

Prediction: The Reds were overhyped and would finish third with 86 wins; 90 would be their ceiling due to a mediocre starting staff.
What Really Happened: The Reds made me look like an idiot; Cincinnati was this close from finishing with the top record in baseball. What did me in was the rock-solidness of the Reds rotation; their main five started 161 of the team's 162 games. Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey both spun phenomenal seasons, especially considering the ballpark they call home, and Mat Latos was much more of an impact player than I had foreseen. I never would have dreamed that together they would give up the fewest runs in the National League.

Prediction: This would be the year the Pirates seriously challenge for a winning season, but ultimately they would fall short, with 76 wins.
What Really Happened: The work of the devil, apparently. The Pirates stormed off to a great start, realizing more potential than even I thought they had in them. But, famously, the Bucs stopped there, plummeting to a 79-win finish. While I couldn't have predicted the wild ride, my final guess was pretty well on target. My February argument about the strength of the Pittsburgh rotation also proved prescient as the reason for Pirates fans' early-summer hope. It turns out they only had the NL Central's third-best pitching, however, not second-best as I had envisioned.

Prediction: The Astros, Cubs, and Twins would be among the worst teams in baseball, winning 55, 62, and 67 games respectively.
What Really Happened: The Astros, Cubs, and Twins were among the worst teams in baseball, winning 55, 61, and 66 games respectively. Sometimes, the worst teams are the easiest to predict, though I did put my neck out a bit when I said only four Twins would hit double-digit home runs (Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Josh Willingham, and Danny Valencia). I was wrong about Valencia and failed to include Trevor Plouffe (whose sudden power surge must qualify as the surprise of the 2012 AL Central) and Ryan Doumit (who barely made it himself, hitting 10 homers), but the basic idea held true: Target Field saps power.

Prediction: "I don't see how [the Diamondbacks' excellent 2011] couldn't be [for real], though, for it was built on an extremely solid foundation... it would be more surprising if [Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson] regressed this year, considering the promise that was held for them when they were minor leaguers." The Diamondbacks would once again win the NL West, though with only 88 wins in this weak division.
What Really Happened: The Diamondbacks did return the NL West's second-best offense and second-best pitching. That should have been good for second, if not first, place, and indeed it did produce a Pythagorean record of 86–76. But reality intervened, and the DBacks finished third with 81 wins—not an altogether terrible prediction, but clearly a miss. To blame were Daniel Hudson's Tommy John surgery, Justin Upton's average output, and Ian Kennedy's blah 4.02 ERA.

Prediction: The Rockies would be MLB's biggest surprise in 2012. The rotation would put it all together for at least 85 wins. "If things break right, Colorado could run away with the division title."
What Really Happened: Things, ah, did not break right. The Rockies lost 98 games and were my worst overestimation of the offseason. Specifically, that starting staff I was so optimistic about was so bad that the team switched to a four-man rotation, limiting starters to 75 pitches each. It was a failed experiment, and Colorado starters finished with a 5.81 ERA. Drew Pomeranz did not dominate over a full season as I boldly predicted, and my diamonds in the rough Jeremy Guthrie and Jamie Moyer lasted a collective five months in the rotation. Finally, Jhoulys Chacín and Juan Nicasio both failed to come back from injuries, leaving the pitching cupboard bare. The best laid plans of mice and men...

Prediction: The Dodgers would fight to stay out of the cellar, lacking any kind of supporting cast for Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw. They would finish with 74 wins.
What Really Happened: The Dodgers loaded up on cash and bought (literally) a whole team, including Hanley Ramírez, Shane Victorino, Adrian González, and Joe Blanton. I was actually right about James Loney and Dee Gordon crashing and burning this year, but I didn't expect all-stars to take over their positions. Personally, I don't think anyone can be held to their preseason Dodgers prediction, since the team that ended 2012 in Chavez Ravine simply bore no resemblance to the one that started it. A solid rotation was also something I underestimated, however, as the Dodgers played the role of Cincinnati with four consistent starters with ERAs under 3.73.

Prediction: The Giants "appear to have hit a ceiling with their two-way low-score strategy." Without a reliable offense, they would limp to 84 wins and third place. Melky Cabrera would return to being an out machine, though Aubrey Huff would manage to resurrect his career (yet again). Ryan Vogelsong would discover mediocrity, and Barry Zito would continue his.
What Really Happened: The 2012 World Series champions, that's what happened. Virtually all my predictions turned out the exact opposite: Zito found new life, Vogelsong seems to have achieved a new normal, Cabrera was unreal (as was, it turns out, his newfound muscle), and Huff turned in fewer than 100 at-bats. Meanwhile, Buster Posey led a truly shockingly good offense of the kind San Francisco has lacked since Barry Bonds. I could've told you in the spring that, with that kind of offense, the Giants would be World Series favorites. But I couldn't and I didn't—and that's why you can't predict baseball.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Predicting the 2012 Election

In a recent post, I explained why "calling" races and making predictions based on qualitative, not quantitative, factors was iffy at best and academically irresponsible at worst. So, naturally, what follows will be my arbitrary and binary predictions for the 2012 elections.

(In seriousness, I do want to make it clear that this is in no way a scientific prediction. But I also don't think there's anything wrong with that, as long as it's acknowledged up front and everything that follows is kept in its proper perspective. Making predictions, as pundits do on Baseball Tonight or the World Series pregame show or whatever, is fun, and it's nothing I would begrudge anyone. I just wish punditry would be seen for what it is—entertainment.)


Here, my prediction will be the roughest and, probably, the most uninformed. Unfortunately, I haven't had a chance this cycle to look at the competitive House races in much depth. In 2006, 2008, and 2010, we had the benefit of knowing it was a "wave election," but there is no such trend this year. The consensus among experts is that there may be a slight Democratic edge (as in the Senate and presidential races), but it's close to a draw. If the parties split the tossup seats, Democrats would net only a handful—zero to five seems to be the generally agreed-upon range. Looking at the roster of competitive races, though, I find a bit more to like for Democrats. Going through this list, keeping score based on my sense of each race, and then splitting my own personal "tossups" 50-50, I make a back-of-the-napkin guess that the next House will consist of 202 Democrats and 233 Republicans.


In the underrated governors' races, I have already provided my overall rankings in the form of a spectrum accessible via the tab on the top of the page. This year, there are four clear Democratic favorites and four clear Republican favorites; you can see my picks for those on the Gubernatorial Rankings page. But what of the three tossups: Washington, New Hampshire, and Montana?

Well, the way the chart works is that I order the races from most Democratic to most Republican, so the tossup closest to the blue side is the one most likely to go blue and vice versa. However, I should emphasize that the reason I ever place any race in the "tossup" category is that it truly is too close to call—by definition, that there's nothing that gives me a hint the race is leading one way or the other. I'll pick them for you here—again, for entertainment purposes only—but know that it's a stab in the dark.

I'm going to say that Montana's next governor will be Republican Rick Hill, while Washington and New Hampshire will elect Democrats. In Montana, I expect that presidential coattails (i.e., the fact that Mitt Romney will win the state handily) will outweigh the coattails of an outgoing Democratic governor who's not on the ballot. In Washington, likewise, Barack Obama's easy win should help drive Jay Inslee–inclined supporters to the voting booth. Furthermore, Inslee has enjoyed a slight polling lead for a few months now, with the race only just recently drifting into the margin of error. In New Hampshire, the opposite has occurred, with Democrat Maggie Hassan coming off a strong set of polls showing her up four points, five points, and five points after a tied race for much of the duration. My prediction below (spoiler alert!) that Obama will win the Granite State can also only help her. Here's what I expect the gubernatorial map to look like at the end of election night:


In the Senate, I also have a useful chart explaining which parties I expect to win which races, and how safe that prediction is. Obviously, I won't be picking against myself in any of those races that I've categorized (otherwise I'd just change the chart). But the chart does leave five races as tossups, and, yet again, I will make some random predictions for you.

My crystal ball will again be generous to Democrats, as I perceive the median voter's mood to be ever-so-slightly left-leaning at the moment, so I give them the top four tossups in the chart. In Massachusetts, I've thought that Democrat Elizabeth Warren would prevail from day one; Republican Senator Scott Brown eked out a win in 2010 only because turnout was so low and Republicans were so motivated to vote in that special election. The 2012 voter-turnout model, of course, will look very different in this deep-blue state. Still, Brown has proven to be probably the strongest Senate candidate in the entire country, keeping the race tight all year. It has only been recently that Warren has pulled ahead—slightly—in polling.

Virginia and Wisconsin both figure to feature razor-thin margins as well, and I'm not convinced that either candidate has an advantage as we stand today. On Election Day, though, it'll come down to turnout, and I expect Democrats to have the superior ground game in both states on Tuesday. This is in large part because both states are important swing states in the presidential, and (spoiler alert!) I view Obama as the favorite in both. That should be enough to pull Tim Kaine and Tammy Baldwin into the Senate.

A very interesting case is Indiana, which, along with Missouri, looks as though it could be one of two states where the Tea Party costs Republicans a Senate victory—2010 redux. This went from a safe Republican seat when it was Richard Lugar's to lose, to a lean Republican seat when the very conservative Richard Mourdock became the nominee, to a complete tossup (some would say leans Democrat!) when Mourdock made his controversial comments about rape. For me, that last straw threw the race into total confusion, and this may be the hardest Senate race to forecast because of it. Indiana remains a very Republican state on the presidential and gubernatorial level, yet the only public poll conducted after the rape comments showed a huge lead for Democrat Joe Donnelly. While I'm not sure I believe in such a huge margin, the momentum of the race is clearly away from the Republican—so I think this one will go blue too.

The one tossup where I ultimately expect the Republican to triumph is Montana. Democrat Jon Tester actually leads in the polling average at the moment, but this is one case in which I could easily foresee an upset, à la Nevada or Colorado in 2010. Montana is obviously a Republican-leaning state, and its support for Romney will present a hurdle for Tester; it's always harder to convince people to split their tickets than to vote the straight party line. This is, of course, the same reason why I chose Rick Hill to win the gubernatorial race in Big Sky Country. Indeed, my predictions are banking on Montana rediscovering its conservative roots.

Speaking of upsets—remember that, unlike the over-polled presidential race that I'll get to below, the smaller number of polls in many Senate races means there are fewer data available to make prognostications. This increases the margin of error and can make surprises more likely. That's a big part of the reason why there is usually an upset or two in the Senate races (and always a handful of upsets in the House). While I've picked them to go a certain way, this year I could see surprises taking place in Missouri, Arizona, and Nevada.

Missouri is an increasingly red state with an increasingly obtuse Republican candidate. Polls have shown Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill with a large lead because of it, but I've wondered for a while now if there may be latent support for Republican Todd Akin. No one wants to tell a pollster they're voting for an ostensibly sexist candidate, but when they get in the voting booth all by themselves, perhaps they'll fill out that secret ballot differently. This possibility is enhanced by the fact that most undecided Senate voters in Missouri are die-hard Republicans. In fact, according to Public Policy Polling, if Akin can pick up just 10% more Republican support, he wins. The libertarian candidate is also winning 6% of voters in the latest PPP poll, most of them Republicans. Will they come home? I do think it'll be close.

In Arizona and Nevada, the case is less complicated, and it all comes down to turnout among the Hispanic population. Democrat Richard Carmona is seeking to become the first Latino senator from Arizona, a state with a 30% Latino population but where Latinos made up only 13% of the vote in 2010. And, in Nevada, with an Obama win (spoiler alert!) looking likely, could the president's winning coalition pull Shelley Berkley over the finish line? Democrats in both states will be working hard to turn out these difference-making Hispanic voters.

In the end, though, I've still chosen to keep those three states in their "leans" categories. Totaling everything up, I project a 2013–14 Senate that consists of 53 Democrats (including two independents) and 47 Republicans—the exact same arrangement as today. Here's what it will look like:


That takes us to the big kahuna. My view of the state of the presidential race should actually be pretty uncontroversial, at least to anyone who follows the polls and accepts their consensus. It feels as though we've settled on a nonet of swing states whose combined 110 electoral votes will decide the next president; furthermore, with the rich supply of polling we've had there, it is fairly easy to put them on a spectrum from blue to red (numbers are as of Sunday afternoon):

I do not consider any state apart from these nine to be worth investigating in the presidential contest. In the week before Election Day, we've seen political observers go even more cuckoo than usual over states like Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Arizona. Despite last-minute candidate visits and polls showing a close race, I find it incredibly unlikely that any of these states will deviate from conventional wisdom. Historically, states that have been in one candidate's column all cycle long do not just suddenly defect to the other on election night. If Romney wins Pennsylvania, Michigan, or Minnesota, or if Obama wins Arizona, it will be because the national race on the whole shifted significantly toward him at the last minute; consequently, this entire prediction will be rubbish, since that will have meant one of the candidates won in a landslide. In the end, no state other than the nine in the chart above will be decisive in the Electoral College, because no other states will be swing states in an election consistent with how closely contested this one has been.

To walk through those nine states—it would appear that the ones on the extremes would be the easiest to predict, and I agree with this school of thought. I expect North Carolina to go to Romney without much difficulty; beyond the public polling average, the president has not visited the state since the Democratic convention two months ago, suggesting that his campaign does not see it as truly competitive.

In Nevada, early voting shows a huge advantage for Democrats, leading the state's most prominent political analyst to expect an Obama win. Mark Mellman, Harry Reid's pollster who was one of the few who accurately forecast that Reid would hold on in 2010, also has Obama up. Then there are just the demographics: as long as the state's growing Hispanic population prefers Democrats, Nevada as a blue-leaning state may be the new normal.

Finally, Wisconsin is a state where the Romney/Ryan ticket has invested a lot of time and energy, keeping it within their reach. However, past election results show that Wisconsin just isn't anything but a blue state, and even a native vice-presidential candidate can't change that. There hasn't been a poll showing Romney leading in Wisconsin since August 19 (before the Denver debate and his greatest moment of the campaign), and the odds of a candidate winning a state despite so many data points to the contrary are astronomical. This same logic can be applied to North Carolina and Nevada; hence, I feel pretty confident about my predictions in this first triad of swing states.

Skipping Ohio for a moment, the next-closest states are our old friends Iowa and New Hampshire. These states have both sported the occasional polls showing Romney with a lead, though Obama still holds the upper hand on average. They also lack the solid additional circumstantial evidence of an edge one way or another that Nevada, Wisconsin, and North Carolina can boast. Given their historical proclivity for being very elastic, fickle states, I could certainly see them going for Romney, but I still have to side with the averages and say they'll fall in the blue column, where the polls have them pretty comfortably resting for the time being.

Totaling my predictions so far from above, we stand at 263 electoral votes for Obama and 206 for Romney with four states left to examine—any one of which would put Obama over the top. It's the same argument you've been hearing for a while now, so I apologize for repeating it, but it's true: Obama is the favorite in this election because he simply has more paths to 270 electoral votes. This election is like a best-of-seven playoff series where the incumbent leads three games to none. Historically, it's a commanding lead, with the blue team needing to win only one of their next four games. But as Mitt Romney's favorite team, the Boston Red Sox (who did it while he was their governor), have shown, it's possible to win four in a row.

But I'm trying to give you my for-entertainment-purposes-only pick, not a synopsis of the odds. Indeed, this is where this presidential forecast verges from grounded in fact and reason to based on the flip of a coin. In contrast to the states above, which I expect to be very close but resolved on election night, the next three are the ones where I don't think we'll know the winner until sometime during the day on November 7. (Keep a particular eye on Colorado, where Secretary of State Scott Gessler's controversial tactics and malfunctioning voting machines have made the state ripe for a legal battle.) In other words, these are the pure tossup states, the ones that will be decided by the decimal place.

My (arbitrary) pick in Colorado and Virginia is President Obama. Call it a hunch—and you'd be right—but I see a number of intangibles in his favor. Most importantly, there is Democrats' superior get-out-the-vote effort; Obama has more than twice as many field offices in Virginia as Romney does, and in Colorado "one top GOP consultant who has worked on presidential campaigns told [the Atlantic] he mentally added 2 to 4 points to Obama's polls in the state based on superior organization." Strong field teams not only are better at turning out a candidate's likely voters, but they're also more wont to tap into the "unlikely" voter pool—which polls of "likely voters" often miss. Registered voters who can't reliably be expected to make it to the polls usually skew Democratic and can include younger as well as non-white voters. Specifically, as with the Senate races in Nevada and Arizona, I believe Hispanic voter turnout could be a difference-maker in Colorado. You can bet that OFA will be trying to get every last vote out of the state's Latino community, which polls can often undersample and therefore underrate the impact of. Finally, one last group that many polls miss entirely are "cell-phone-only" voters—that is, voters, likely or not, who do not own a landline phone. Because many polling companies do not call cell phones, their results may underestimate this blue-leaning demographic.

These are all acceptable justifications for picking Obama when all other factors seem equal. But there are also similar arguments that favor Romney—perhaps the most convincing of which is to point at the national polling numbers. Unlike the state polls, where Obama has had an advantage, national polls have been consistently better for Romney, showing either a tied race or the Republican leading. (For the record, I do not foresee a popular vote/Electoral College split. That's not something a responsible predictor can ever "call," in my mind, because it has been so rare historically and the election would have to be uniquely close.) You can average the national polls with the aggregate of state polls to tell a more conservative-friendly tale than the state polls alone show. This is as good a reason as any to break my mental tie in the state of Florida in favor of Mitt Romney. Another is the advantage he seems to have in the swingiest region of this swingiest state: the I-4 corridor between Orlando and Tampa. With its high percentage of conservative Cuban-Americans, Florida is also a state where high Hispanic turnout would not necessarily aid Obama.

Finally, we return to Ohio—and, unfortunately for the GOP, this is the real stake in Romney's heart. Even if Romney wins all three coin flips above, he'll still need Ohio for the presidency, like every Republican before him—but as we saw from the chart above, Ohio is somewhere between Iowa and Nevada in terms of how safe it is for Obama. This is a state where liberals have been reenergized thanks to a concerted union effort to kill a ban on collective bargaining, where liberal senator Sherrod Brown is poised to cruise to reelection, and where you can bet Obama's ground-game advantage will manifest itself as much as anywhere (if you're an OFA volunteer from a non–swing state, you're going to Ohio.) And then there's the stubborn polling advantage that has implied that Obama's support is as solid as a rock. As Nate Silver wrote of Ohio, "There are no precedents in the database for a candidate losing with a two- or three-point lead in a state when the polling volume was that rich."

Because of Ohio, and also simply because of Romney's dire reliance on my three coin-flip states versus their expendability to Obama, I am confident that Obama will win a second term. I am much less confident about my specific prediction that he will win 303 electoral votes to Romney's 235, but there you have my map anyway:

Now let's see what happens.