This has certainly been a highly uncertain presidential election season, and more importantly, a rather depressing one.

However, I’ve posted election day predictions here for each of the last several presidential elections. And I’ve noted when my predictions were accurate (50 of 50 states in 2012, 49 of 50 in 2008). So I think it’s only fair that I do the same again this year.

Here is how I see the election as of this morning:


I tend to side with Nate Silver about this year’s presidential race: the election outcome is significantly less certain than many analysts are claiming. There are essentially two related reasons for this uncertainty:

  1. Because of the unusual nature of this election (two highly unpopular and polarizing candidates, including one who is especially unconventional and controversial), the polls have been consistently far more varied and volatile than in other recent presidential elections.
  2. For those same reasons, we have especially good reason, this time around, to suspect that our assumptions about voter turnout and demographics, used to craft and interpret polling results, may be inaccurate in ways we can’t predict (and can’t even estimate; that is, we don’t know how much we don’t know).

That latter point means that we don’t really know, for instance, the extent to which mainstream Republicans will break for Trump, cross party lines, or simply stay home. We don’t know how many Democrats (especially white, male, and working-class) may cross party lines for Trump or stay home. We don’t know how many voters have been reluctant to tell pollsters the truth about their voting plans, which may cross party and other lines, and seem risky to reveal to others. We don’t know the impact of Trump’s motivational impact on his supporters, but lack of a solid ground game to turn out the vote, on the composition of the electorate.

This is a hasty sketch of several of the most important issues in play. In any event, the electoral map above reflects this uncertainty. The impact is that, while I agree that Clinton has a distinct advantage tonight, I believe Silver is right when he suggests there is more uncertainty than many analysts will admit, such that Trump has a real chance at winning the White House, and Clinton has a real chance at a strong victory in the electoral college.

If pressed, what do I think is the most likely outcome? It’s this:


But I will be looking very, very closely at the early returns tonight, for any hints as to whether, and in what ways, our assumptions have proven wrong this time around.

Interpreting Slavery at Museums and Historic Sites (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014)I posted this announcement over at the Tracing Center earlier this week.

We’re pleased to announce the release of the Tracing Center’s new book, Interpreting Slavery at Museums and Historic Sites (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014).

“This seminal work … will make a significant impact.”

— Rex M. Ellis, Associate Director, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

Interpreting Slavery, edited by Kristin Gallas and James DeWolf Perry, is the most visible product to date of a three-year Tracing Center project to develop and disseminate best practices in slavery interpretation. This project has also included surveys of the field, workshops at historic sites and museums, conference presentations and instructional sessions, as well as additional publications.

The book is a collaboration with seven leading public historians with deep expertise in navigating the interpretation of slavery:

  • Dina A. Bailey, National Center for Civil and Human Rights
  • Patricia Brooks, National Endowment for the Humanities
  • Richard C. Cooper, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
  • Conny Graft, Conny C. Graft Research and Evaluation
  • Linnea Grim, Monticello
  • Katherine D. Kane, Harriet Beecher Stowe Center
  • Nicole A. Moore, Museum Educator and Historic Consultant

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Once again, Bob Vanderbei of Princeton has offered the nation a view of itself as the purple country that it is:

The purple United States 2012

As I mentioned four years ago, this is a much more accurate and revealing look at the nation’s geographic political divisions than the more conventional state-by-state, red-and-blue map. It emphasizes how politically diverse many states are, and how there are red, blue, and purple areas throughout the country.

The county-level data revealed by this map also hints at an important truth that state-by-state color-coding doesn’t: that in terms of geography, our society’s political leanings track closely with not only broad geographic areas, but also with coastal and inland terrain and with urban and rural settings.

[P]olitics is a field perfectly designed to foil precise projections. … You can’t tell what’s about to happen.

David Brooks on the 2012 presidential election, New York Times, October 23

As of this writing, my state-by-state projection of the presidential election outcome is 49 for 49. If Florida, the only state I said was a close call, ends up in Obama’s column, that record will improve to 50 for 50.

This result says little about my own predictive abilities, however, and a great deal about the ability of political science to make meaningful predictions and to understand the fundamental factors driving presidential election outcomes.

My electoral college projection, 2012

My 2012 electoral college prediction, as posted here on the morning of the election

What quick lessons can we draw here?

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In recent presidential elections, I’ve publicly posted my analysis and predictions ahead of the voting. While I’m no longer blogging here, in order to concentrate on my work at the Tracing Center, I thought it would only be fair to put myself on record again.

(Last year, for reference, I correctly predicted 49 of 50 states. The state I missed was Indiana, which I saw narrowly going to McCain.)

Here is now I see the electoral map and the state of the presidential election, before we begin seeing returns today:

Electoral college map (analysis)

How controversial is this analysis? Not very, if you look at the work of respectable political analysts and political scientists. On the other hand, if you’ve been listening to the “mainstream media,” you might have the mistaken impression that Romney had been experiencing momentum since the first presidential debate, and that the race was currently too close to call.

In fact, President Obama has a commanding lead in the electoral college, and probably a slim lead in the popular vote, as well. As the map indicates, he seems to have enough states sewn up to win a majority of electoral college votes, and is on track for a bigger victory than required. There seem to be few battleground states left in play, and only Florida appears to be a true toss-up.

What are Romney’s chances at this point? Not very good, but he still has a chance. To win, however, would require either surprising events on the ground in key battleground states, blocking relatively large numbers of voters from casting their ballots, or for most the state polls to have been systematically biased (“skewed”) against him.

Political scientists and survey experts worry quite a bit, in fact, that the national and state polls could be biased against one candidate or the other, especially in an age of very low response rates and high cell phone usage among younger voters.

However, it’s worth noting two facts here. First, we have rich polling data in all the battleground and marginal states. While individual state polls can and do vary quite a bit (statistical “noise”), averages of late state polls in presidential elections are historically very, very successful at predicting winners. And there has been no noticeable trend away from this success in recent years.

Second, the risk that the state polls are biased cuts both ways. Pollsters and analysts have to make assumptions in analyzing voter responses, and they could be making the wrong assumptions, but they have been very conscious that they could be making assumptions that overstate the president’s support among voters. (This has been especially true in recent months, as until the last week or so, the national poll numbers have consistently shown Romney performing better than the state polls would suggest.) As a results, reputable pollsters have been trying to adjust their assumptions to balance the risk of over- and under-stating either candidate’s performance, and it would seem just as likely that they have erred in one direction as another.

Finally, here is my projection of tonight’s election results:

Electoral college projection

This is the electoral map where I force myself to call every single state. As the first map indicated, I see very few closely contested states this year, and all but one of those states exhibits a distinct “lean,” making this projection straightforward (if inherently risky).

The sole exception is Florida. As of today, Florida seems as if it’s headed for an automatic recount. If either candidate performs better than that in Florida, I think it could be either one. It will all depend on the ground game there, and on whether Obama’s apparent momentum in the national polls, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, has crested or is still peaking.

Four years ago, I wrote a short blog post about a preliminary settlement in the case of Mexican braceros denied wages earned as guest workers in the U.S. in World War II.

Since that time, the post has attracted a steady flow of visitors searching the web for information about receiving compensation for family members who were braceros. These visitors, and the comments they’ve left asking for information, indicate just how many uncompensated braceros remain in the U.S. and Mexico, as well as the rampant confusion surrounding this case.

I have no expertise in the handling of claims for the braceros program. However, because of the number of visitors who’ve asked for information, and the fact that this exchange is buried in the comments on that page, I want to provide here a summary of what I know.

My understanding from reading newspaper and scholarly accounts is that the process for claiming compensation depends upon whether the former braceros, or any heirs, live in Mexico or in the United States.

In the case of residents of the U.S., the class action lawsuit dictated the process to be followed, and the first step was to contact the nearest Mexican consulate for information and to file a claim. For example, as of a year ago, the Mexican consulate in Yuma, Arizona was actively seeking former braceros who had filed a claim but not yet received compensation. Each claimant is apparently receiving about $3,000 U.S.

In the case of residents of Mexico, all claims are handled by the Mexican government. I believe that requires contacting a Mexican federal office for information or to pursue a claim.

If anyone has better or more recent information than this, please leave it in the comments, and I will update the main post.

DeWolf family treeWhile I usually blog at the Tracing Center these days, I thought this post I wrote today might be worth sharing with readers here, too. Please feel free to offer any thoughts below, or comment here.

When I sat down this weekend to watch last Thursday’s episode of “The Office,” I was quite surprised to discover that the plot largely revolved around the revelation that Andy Bernard, like me, is descended from slave traders.

As you might imagine, as someone who has wrestled with this family legacy, and who cares a great deal about seeing the public to terms with the legacy of slavery, I had mixed feelings watching this subject being addressed in a half-hour comedy show.

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Photo from BBC News storyWhy don’t black Americans swim?

This is the provocative headline of a BBC News story, and it would be easy to misinterpret the BBC’s meaning. This is, after all, a sweeping  generalization, and one which has been a racial stereotype in the United States for many generations.

However, the BBC reporter cites credible statistics to support the widely-held belief that swimming is, in fact, nowhere near as common among black Americans as it is among white Americans.

More importantly, the article argues that this situation arises out of the nation’s painful legacy of slavery and race and has deadly consequences.

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The Tracing Center’s year-end newsletter is now available, highlighting what my colleagues and I have accomplished in 2011:

As anticipated by my lengthier blog post this morning, Professor Goodwin Liu’s nomination to be a federal appellate judge has been successfully filibustered by Senate Republicans opposed to his judicial philosophy.

The vote was 52-43 in favor of voting on the nomination, but the motion to invoke cloture and take an up-0r-down vote on Liu required the support of at least 60 senators.

In all likelihood, this vote means that Liu’s nomination is effectively dead. This was almost certainly a foregone conclusion, and the cloture motion here was being used by Senate Democrats as a way of putting Republican opponents on record as filibustering this nomination before next year’s elections.

For more on Liu’s nomination, including the role of our organization and its PBS documentary, Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North, see here.

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