Annals of Improbable Research, Vol. 16, No. 4, Online Supplement

 

What is the Probability that Barack Obama Will Be Re-Elected in the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election?

 

Eric Schulman

Alexandria, Virginia


Daniel Debowy

Boston, Massachusetts



Abstract

69%.

 

1. Introduction

    The Annals of Improbable Research U.S. Presidential Election Algorithm (Debowy and Schulman 2003) correctly predicted the outcome of the 2004 and 2008 United States presidential elections. Once the 2012 campaign for U.S. President officially started in November of 2008,  Schulman and Debowy (2008)  applied this proven algorithm to 18 potential Republican candidates for this election, compared their electabilities to that of President Barack H. Obama II and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., and concluded that seven would win the general election if they were nominated by the Republican Party. In this paper, we consider a sample of 23 potential Republican candidates and estimate the probability that they will win the nomination based on their prices at the political prediction market Intrade.com.

 

2. Methods

    We chose as our sample the 23 potential Republican candidates for the 2012 U.S. presidential election with prices above 0.5 at Intrade.com on April 30, 2010. We determined the electability for president and vice president of these potential Republican candidates using the following formulas:

     Presidential Electability = 5*(years as President) + years as U.S. Representative + 11*(years as Governor),
     +110 if the candidate has been a four-star general officer in the United States Armed Forces,
     +110 if the candidate has been a college or university president or chancellor,
     +110 if the candidate is the child of a U.S. Senator,
     –110 if the candidate has been divorced,
     –110 if the candidate has been a special prosecutor,
     –110 if the candidate was the first adherent of a particular religion (e.g., Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) to be a major-party candidate for President,
     –110 if the candidate was an officer of a lobbying organization at the time of the election.
    
     Vice Presidential Electability = 4*(years as Vice President) + years as U.S. Representative + years as Governor,
     +110 if the candidate has been a corporate banker,
     +110 if the candidate has been a college or university president or chancellor,
     +110 if the candidate is the child of a U.S. Senator,
     –110 if the candidate was the first adherent of a particular religion (e.g., Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) to be a major-party candidate for Vice President,
     –110 if the candidate was an officer of a lobbying organization at the time of the election.

Total Electability = Presidential Electability + Vice Presidential Electability.

Years in office is equal to the number of years the candidate served in a particular office, rounded up as long as the partial year service was one month or more, unless the candidate moved directly from one public office to another, in which case the office in which the candidate spent a larger fraction of their time during that year receives credit for the year.  Years of service for offices were verified using the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom (Wikipedia). Although the electorate doesn’t care one way or the other how long a candidate has served as a U.S. Senator, we included this information for completeness. We assume that incumbant candidates will continue to serve in their current office until 2012 unless they are term limited, in which case they will finish their current term.  This is not always a good assumption, as shown by Schulman and Debowy (2008)'s error in predicting that Sarah L.H. Palin would have served six years as governor by November of 2012 instead of the 2.6 years she actually served (this is rounded up to 3 in our algorithm) or that Jon M. Huntsman Jr. would have served eight years as governor by November of 2012 instead of the 4.6 years he actually served (this is rounded up to 5 in our algorithm). We further assume that no potential candidates will serve in any new elective office between now and election day in 2012.

3. Results

    The presidential and vice presidential electabilties for the 23 potential Republican candidates for president are shown in Table 1. Table 1 also shows the electabilities normalized by the Intrade price and the probability that the candidate will be nominated and select a vice presidential candidate that would enable the ticket to defeat the Democratic Obama/Biden ticket, as discussed below. Three potential candidates from Schulman and Debowy (2008) do not currently meet our Intrade.com minimum price of 0.5: Eric I. Cantor (0.3), Charles J. Crist Jr. (0.2), and Marshall C. Sanford (0.1).

 

Table 1. Electability of Twenty-Three Potential Republican Candidates for President in 2012


Candidate
Years as
Notes
Electability Normalized
Intrade
Price
P(win)
Pres.
V.P.
Sen.
Rep.
Gov.
Pres.
V.P.
Pres.
V.P.
George E. Pataki
0
0
0
0
12

132
12
2.00
0.18
2.0
1.2%
Michael D. Huckabee
0
0
0
0
11

121
11
6.98
0.63
7.6
4.5%
David H. Petraeus
0
0
0
0
0
General
110
0
2.50
0.00
3.0
1.8%
Timothy J. Pawlenty
0
0
0
0
8

88
8
5.88
0.53
8.8
5.2%
John E. Bush
0
0
0
0
8

88
8
2.74
0.25
4.1
2.5%
Haley R. Barbour
0
0
0
0
8

88
8
1.60
0.15
2.4
1.4%
Pyush Jindal 0
0
0
3
5

58
8
0.92
0.13
2.1
1.3%
Sarah L. H. Palin
0 0 0
0
3

33
3
6.51
0.59
26.0
12.7%
Ronald E. Paul
0
0
0
23
0

23
23
0.63
0.63
3.6
0.2%
Paul D. Ryan Jr.
0
0
0
14
0

14
14
0.42
0.42
4.0
0.1%
Michael R. Pence
0 0 0
12
0

12
12
0.29
0.29
3.2
0.0%
John R. Thune
0 0 8
6
0

6
6
0.73
0.73
16.1
0.0%
James W. DeMint
0
0
8
6
0

6
6
0.03
0.03
0.6
0.0%
Richard J. Santorum
0
0
12
4
0

4
4
0.08
0.08
2.7
0.0%
Scott P. Brown
0
0
3
0
0

0
0
0.00
0.00
5.0
0.0%
Robert P. Corker Jr.
0
0
6
0
0

0
0
0.00
0.00
0.9
0.0%
Mitchell E. Daniels Jr.
0
0
0
0
8
Divorced
-22
8
-0.68
0.25
4.1
0.0%
Gary E. Johnson
0 0 0
0
8
Divorced
-22
8
-0.20
0.07
1.2
0.0%
Jon M. Huntsman Jr.
0 0 0
0
5
Mormon
-55
-105
-0.33
-0.64
0.8
0.0%
Williard M. Romney
0
0
0
0
4
Mormon
-66
-106
-13.02
-20.91
26.0
0.0%
Newton L. Gingrich
0
0
0
20
0
Divorced
-90
20
-3.76
0.83
5.5
0.0%
Rudolph W. L. Giuliani
0
0
0
0
0
Divorced
-110
0
-0.50
0.00
0.6
0.0%
Michael R. Bloomberg
0
0
0
0
0
Jewish, Divorced
-220
0
-2.50
0.00
1.5
0.0%
Sum of all candidates
10.32
-15.74
131.8
31.5%

    In every presidential election between 1789 and 2008, the major party ticket with the highest electability was declared the winner and took office. In 2012, President Barack H. Obama II will have an electability of 20 and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. will have an electability of 16, for a total Democratic electability of 36. Eight of the potential Republican candidates for president in 2012 have presidential electabilities of more then 36, which means they would win the November 2012 election if the Republican Party nominated them and they chose a vice presidential candidate with a non-negative vice presidential electability. Three others would win if they received the Republican nomination for president in 2012 and chose the appropriate vice presidential running mate. These results were similar to those of Schulman and Debowy (2008).

   In this paper we use the Intrade.com price to determine the probability that each potential candidate will be nominated. This probability is equal to the Intrade.com price divided by the sum of the Intrade.com prices for all 23 potential candidates (131.8). For example, the probability that Williard M. Romney will be nominated is 26/131.8 or 19.7%. The normalized electability for each potential candidate is their electability multiplied by the probability they will be nominated, so Williard M. Romney has a normalized presidential electability of -66 * 0.197 (-13.02) and a normalized vice presidential electability of -106 * 0.197 (-20.91). The sum of these normalized electabilities provides the expected Republican presidential electability (10.32) and vice presidential electability (-15.74) in 2012, resulting in an expected Republican ticket electability of -5.42 substantially less than the Obama/Biden electability of 36. This assumes that the vice presidential candidate will be chosen from among the 22 remaining potential Republican candidates for President. This is not necessarily the case, but is not a significant effect as long as the distribution of vice presidential electabilities for all potential Republican vice presidential candidates is similar to the distribution of vice presidential electabilities of the 23 potential Republican presidential candidates shown here. Although the average Republican ticket would not defeat Obama/Biden in 2012, as discussed above there are a number of Republican tickets that would. We use the probability that each potentially winning candidate will be nominated times the probability that the candidate will select an appropriate vice presidential candidate from the remaining 22 potential candidates (assumed to be the Intrade price of the vice presidential candidate divided by 131.8 minus the Intrade price of the presidential candidate) to calculate the probability that each potential candidate will head the winning ticket in 2012. The three most likely such candidates are Sarah L.H. Palin (12.7%), Timothy J. Pawlenty (5.2%), and Michael D. Huckabee (4.5%). The sum of P(win) for all the potential Republican candidates provides the probabilty that the Republican Party will win the 2012 U.S. Presidential election: 31%.

4. Discussion
   Given the demonstrated power of the Annals of Improbable Research U.S. Presidential Election Algorithm, shouldn't Republican primary voters base their decisions on the algorithm rather than Intrade.com prices? Schulman and Debowy (2007) made the same argument when they discovered a negative correlation between electability and Intrade price for potential 2008 Republican and Democratic candidates for president and vice president. However, in 2008 both major parties chose candidates with low electabilities (the Obama/Biden electability was 0 and the McCain/Palin electability was -104). Schulman and Debowy (2008) discovered that as of November 20, 2008, there was a postive correlation between electability and price for potential Republican candidates for president, suggesting that Intrade.com users believed that Republican primary voters would take electability into account in 2012. However, as of April 30, 2010, this correlation has disappeared, as shown clearly in Figure 1.


Figure 1. Electability vs. Intrade Price for Potential Republican Candidates for President in 2012

Electability vs. Intrade Price

    The solid red circles in Figure 1 show the Intrade price and presidential electability of each of the 23 potential Republican candidates for president in 2012. The nearly horizontal black line shows the linear regression relationship between these points. There is no significant relationship between price and electability, in contrast to the November 2008 results shown in the insert. The empty red circles show the Intrade presidential price and vice presidential electability of each of the 23 candidates. The vertical red dashed line shows the normalized  Republican presidential electability (15.41), the vertical red dotted line shows the normalized  Republican vice presidential electability (-15.59), and the vertical red solid line shows the expected Republican ticket electability (-0.18) in 2012. Similarly the vertical blue dashed line shows the presidential electabilty of Barack H. Obama II (20), the vertical blue dotted line shows the vice presidential electability of Joseph R. Biden Jr. (16), and the vertical blue solid line shows the Democratic ticket electabilty (36) in 2012.

5. Conclusion

    In 2012, Republican primary voters could nominate any of eleven candidates who would win against the Obama/Biden ticket, provided they chose an appropriate vice presidential candidate. However, 2008 demonstrated that primary voters do not always choose candidates with high electabilities. If Intrade.com users are correct in their estimation of the relative probability that particular Republican candidates will be selected, the Obama/Biden ticket has a 67% probability of being re-elected in 2012.