#PAGov: The Statistical Reason Tom Wolf Will Likely Be the Democratic Nominee

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On the heels of the most recent F&M poll, Tom Wolf has maintained his large lead over all other Democratic challengers, particularly when including leaners:


What’s more, Wolf’s support doesn’t seem very soft. It remains statistically identical when you filter out the people who have a lower likelihood of voting in the primary on May 20th — and 51% of his supporters already say they are “certain” to support him on primary day.

We are a mere six weeks away from the election — and with some important caveats — it makes sense for us to look at a study Nate Silver did, in his book The Signal and the Noise, on statewide polling and the likelihood of success based on the amount of time prior to the election. For our purposes, Mr. Silver finds that the probability of a candidate winning based on a 20+% polling lead one month prior to the election is 99.7%.

Of course, there are a couple things that make this number not 100% accurate in our case: (1) This figure was used based on Senate  — not gubernatorial — election data, and (2) it was compiled from general — rather than primary — election data.

The fact that these numbers were computed using Senate numbers doesn’t strike me as amazingly important due to the fact they’re both statewide races — but significant to mention nonetheless because federal elections are normally more partisan than state races. The more important factor here is that voters are much more likely to switch their support from one candidate to another in a primary than a general, since the candidates’ positions are normally so similar — so the likelihood of success in primaries at this point out for a study like this is likely smaller.

Anecdotally, it’s also hard to see how the other three candidates make enough ground on Mr. Wolf to win the nomination this May. The numbers will undoubtably tighten when McCord’s ads reach more people and the Schwartz campaign starts running theirs as well. But those ads will have to bring down Wolf’s numbers while also bringing up their own, which will be difficult considering that Wolf seemingly doesn’t have many negatives for the other candidates to expose. And even if he did, he likely has enough money to refute them with ads if his campaign feels it’s something they need to respond to.

Remember that probability deals with the likelihood of success or failure. The ‘success’ of a Wolf victory doesn’t care if it’s by 1% or 30% — so any poll-tightening for these predictions doesn’t matter.

It’s probably naive to think that Tom Wolf has a 99.7% chance of winning the PA-Gov Democratic Primary six weeks out — but it’s likely not that far off.

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6 Responses to #PAGov: The Statistical Reason Tom Wolf Will Likely Be the Democratic Nominee

  1. Jason says:

    Look at the boosts McCord and McGinty got from February to March. The only person who didn’t see a bump was Schwartz. The common factor is that the first two starting airing commercials while Schwartz hasn’t yet. It’ll be interesting to see how much traction she receives after they start airing Monday.

    • Ryan says:

      Yup, I don’t disagree with that. Pennsylvania is certainly very TV ad effected, so she’ll get a bump when she starts running spots no question — but it’s also hard to see how it could be enough.

  2. David Diano says:

    Jasona and Ryan- McCord and McGinty also had less name-recognition than Schwartz, so the TV ads boosted that. Schwartz’s name-rec in Philly is already pretty good, and she’s got little appeal outside of Philly. She’s not nothing to say that’s going to cause a mass exodus of Wolf supporters.

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  4. Tsuyoshi says:

    There are two serious problems with this analysis.

    First of all, it is still more than one month before the election. It is easy to imagine that other candidates can quickly gain support, just as Wolf has. Especially in a 4-way primary, you really can see multiple rapid poll swings, as people will engage in strategic voting. Whoever breaks out of the sub-10% range first will likely become the “not-Wolf” candidate, and turn it into a two-way race. Maybe Wolf really has the most compelling story here, and no one else will take off. But you can’t say that for sure, especially based solely on polling, until the other candidates tell their story and the voters react.

    Second, as it is an off-year primary, turnout is decisive. It is notoriously difficult to even reliably poll such an election, because it is difficult to predict who will show up. A good field operation can be the most important part of the campaign. McCord’s union support can be crucial in this respect. Schwartz or McGinty may also perform very well here; they each have a good base of volunteer support. Wolf undoubtedly has the weakest field operation.

    This election is not over yet.

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