Saturday, October 20, 2012

Florida and the War Chest

. Saturday, October 20, 2012

Nate Silver offers the following logic: winning Florida is essentially for Romney but not Obama; Obama has more paths to victory than Romney; Romney is currently winning in Florida; therefore Obama should concede Florida and re-direct his attention (and campaign spending) elsewhere.

If winning Florida represents a high-upside case for Mr. Obama, however, it also comes at considerable expense. 
Florida, because of its large population, is an expensive state to advertise in. And it is a state that probably does require a considerable advertising expenditure. Florida’s population is large, but not especially dense, spread out in a number of exurban and suburban communities throughout the state. It’s easier to reach voters through the airwaves there than by knocking on doors or appearing at campaign rallies. ... 
All of this should call into question whether Florida represents a wise use of resources for Mr. Obama. ...
Mr. Romney certainly doesn’t need Pennsylvania to win the election, but going for broke there is arguably a better strategy for him than having to pick off 4 or 5 states that are now tied or where Mr. Obama holds a small lead.

Mr. Obama, conversely, just needs to hold is ground in those same states. Trying to pull Florida back into his column would represent a heavier lift — and probably an inferior strategy given the recent polls there.
I'm not sure this is correct. Perhaps Obama should focus more on Florida because he's losing there, and because he has so many other ways to win the election. This may be true even if Obama expects that there is a pretty high probability he will lose Florida.

Why? Because Romney has to win Florida and Obama doesn't. If Obama dedicates a bunch of resources to Florida he can force Romney to do so the same to counteract Obama's move. Any money and time Romney is spending in Florida is money and time he isn't spending in Virginia, Ohio, Iowa, New Hampshire, Colorado, Nevada, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Because Obama is winning in most of those states, and only needs to carry some of them to win the general election, anything he can do to prevent Romney from gaining in states other than Florida gives Obama an edge in the general election. Forcing Romney to expend resources defending his lead in Florida is one way to do that.

This only makes sense if Obama can credibly threaten Romney in Florida of course. But he probably can. Romney's lead in Florida is only a few points (Silver mentions a spread between 1-5% depending on the poll, so let's say 3%). If Romney loses Florida the election's all but over, so Obama would need a relatively low probability of victory there to force Romney to expend a lot of resources to guarantee a Florida win. Obama should force him to do it.

If Obama concedes Florida he's inadvertently putting other states in play by allowing Romney to divert resources from defending Florida to attacking Obama's advantage elsewhere. Obama should do whatever he can to prevent that from happening. Fighting in Florida means not fighting in Ohio, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. That's good for Obama, as he currently leads in all those states and will win the election if gets them all.

Those who have an education in game theory should recognize this dynamic as similar in some ways to a more complicated version of the "War Chest" game. The gist is that Obama should not expend his resources try to win the most states. He has an advantage: he's winning the election right now, and he gets no advantage from winning with 300 electoral college votes rather than 275. Instead, Obama should focus his efforts on preventing Romney from making further gains in states Obama currently leads. That involves strategic considerations that go beyond allocating resources to states where Obama has the best chance of winning the state. Instead, Obama should allocate resources to states where he has the best chance of winning the whole election.


Dan Nexon said...

Yep. Nate sometimes gets a bit too involved in his own forecasting.

Florida and the War Chest




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