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Nov 02 2012

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Pre-Election Jitters Set In for GOP

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Where Fact and Fiction Blend

100 hours until we vote and some Republicans have come down with a bad case of the jitters.

The refrain goes something like this: How can we have come so far, endured so much, have accumulated such a damning list of failures by the President, only to come down the wire with a pick ’em race that could go either way?

Was Hurricane Sandy a “game-changer,” allowing POTUS to demonstrate sorely lacking presidential gravitas? Did NJ Governor Chris Christie’s embrace of Obama make it ok for undecideds to vote for 44?

And really, what the heck is going on with the people in Ohio anyway?

First, take a deep breath, and then read on.

Look, it’s a very competitive race. And the last hundred hours are critical, telegraphing where the election is trending. But I am confident that based on what I’ve read and what I see in the campaigns live, that Romney is going to prevail.

In no particular order, here is why:

Critical Issue Dominance

Poll after poll show that the economy is the biggest single issue for voters. In the most recent NPR poll, economic/fiscal issues represented 73 percent of the issues total.

In poll after poll, the President’s handling of the economy is a net negative. The same NPR poll had Obama’s handling of the economy at a net negative of 52 percent.

In head to head heats, Romney is more trusted on the economy than the President. The NPR poll had Romney besting the President 50-46 percent on who could best handle the economy. On fiscal issues, Romney’s lead is more pronounced, 51-43 percent. The margins are different but the results are the same for a host of other polls.

Voters don’t re-elect presidents who have failed on the most important issue.

Gallup National Polling

Until Gallup suspended its polling on Monday, October 29th, Romney has been at or above 50 percent in Gallup’s survey since Oct 9-15 – 20 straight days. POTUS was at a consistent 46-47 percent, very dangerous territory for any sitting president.

Other Polls and Modeling Sample

Yes, but what about all those polls that show the race dead even, give or take point. Even the state polls reflect this close division.

The key is to look at the polling sample.

Most polls over-sample Democrats. In the wave election of ’08 Democratic turnout was D+7. Most of the polls today showing the tight race have a Democratic sample that replicates the ’08 margin, or have modeled an even larger Democratic turnout then last time.

Now return to Gallup for a moment. On October 26th, Gallup released a survey of the likely 2012 electorate, comparing it with the pre-election survey results from 2004 and 2008.

Party 2004 2008 2012 (est.)
Democratic 37 39 35
Independent 24 31 29
Republican 39 29 36
Democrat/Democratic   Leaning 48 54 46
Republican/Republican   Leaning 48 42 49

So what is the take-away?

In 2008, Gallup projected a 10 point gap between Democratic and Republican participation, and a 12 point gap with leaners, in Obama’s favor. Obama ended up winning with a +7 Democratic advantage in participation, and +7 over McCain.

Today, however, Gallup is projecting a net +1 Republican advantage in participation and a +3 Republican advantage when leaners are included. That is a 12-15 point swing in the composition of the electorate from the last presidential election, yet polling models today still look like 2008.

Even if Gallup has over-estimated the GOP advantage (like it did with Democrats in 2008) Gallup isn’t predicting anything close to the ’08 Obama turnout margins.

So any poll that is D+4 or better in its turnout model is under sampling likely Republican strength. Go back and look at the polls with this as the benchmark.

Independents

The “Holy Grail” of politics. Part of the emerging September narrative of an Obama blow out was rooted in the President’s strong support among Independents.

Not anymore.

In almost every survey, since the beginning of October, both nationally as well as in battleground states, Romney has led among Independents. This was a critical component of President Obama’s coalition in 2008, when he blew the doors off with Independents.

It is hard to see him winning without taking a majority of them again.

Early Voting

A Democratic totem and the elixir of all things Obama, early voting has not been an advantage for Team Obama this year. According to Gallup, Romney leads in early voting 52-45 percent, nationally.

Democrats point out quickly that as a national number, these percentages don’t reflect early voting in the critical swing states. True as far as the Gallup report goes, but then there is this story about early voting in OH:

220,000 fewer Democrats have voted early in Ohio compared with 2008. And 30,000 more Republicans have cast their ballots compared with four years ago. That is a 250,000-vote net increase for a state Obama won by 260,000 votes in 2008.”

That is a staggering difference from four years ago, and does, in fact, seem to fit with Gallup’s national findings.

One other point in the Gallup Survey. At the time of its publication, 15 percent of Americans had voted. When the remaining survey participants were asked which candidate they would support on November 6th, Romney led 51-45 percent.

Not good for Team Obama.

Final Candidate Travel

100 hours left. Show me where the candidates and surrogates spend their time, and you get a sense of the race.

There is no hiding that the President is on defense across the nation.

Consider that in ’08, Obama won all the following swing states by these ascending margins: FL-+3, OH-+4, VA-+7, CO-+9, NH-+9, IA-+10, NV-+12, .WI-+14.

So where is the President spending the last four days? He will visit NH, NV, VA, and FL once each. IA and CO will see him twice. OH will see him three times as will…Wisconsin. That’s right – Wisconsin.

Overall, the travel schedule indicative of a very defensive strategy, to husband resources and to defend a line.

Indeed, Team Obama is spending so much of its valuable time on a state that it won by double digits in ’08, then it must be at the expense of states that were closer last time, states that he does not expect to win on Tuesday.

FL fits here, as does, to a lesser extent, VA and CO. It speaks volumes to the President’s current percarious position in states where he ran up 9-14 point victories four years ago, that he must now visit to hang on to his position.

As a defensive strategy, this makes sense, since if Team Obama holds the rest of the official swing states, including all important OH, Obama wins 281-257. Currently, Obama leads by at least +2 in all the remaining swing states.

But the defensive strategy only works if the field stays stable, and right now it is not stable.

There has been movement in the solidly blue Democratic states of MI (O+3), MN (O+5) and PA (O+5), states that the GOP hasn’t won at least as far back as 1988 (in MN its has been 40 years). Whether this movement tips the scales to Romney or not, Team Obama has had to act, deploying precious resources in surrogates and money that could more usefully be engaged in core states. To date, Team Obama is dispatching former President Bill Clinton to MN and PA and running its first political ads of the election in MI.

Republicans are taking this movement seriously as well, putting up ads and surrogate visits in MI and MN, and, to signal real engagement, Mitt Romney is scheduled to visit PA on Sunday.

These added states raise the stakes for Obama exponentially, as the loss of any one of these new swing-ish states would result in an immediate Romney victory, all other states being equal.

Intangibles

Which candidate is acting more like a President?

With the exception of the Obama’s reaction to Hurricane Sandy (which after all is his day job), Team Obama seems to have never fully regained its traction after the disastrous debate on October 3rd. “Romnesia” and Big Bird, and birth control have been pillars in an ever shrinking narrative defined by pettiness, ridicule, ad hominem and general buffoonery. This “wheels off the train” behavior harkins back to the dark, final days of the 1992 campaign when President George H.W. Bush called then-Governor Clinton “a Bozo” and Al Gore “Ozone Man.”

Romney is out talking policy and how to heal the economy. The President is out trash talking Romney and mumbling about voter “revenge.”

And have you looked around for signage?

What happened to the Obama signs?

 In 2008 the signs were ubiquitous. Now, the signs that you see are the exception to the rule. And even in deep blue Arlington County, Virginia, where the GOP will have a good day if it gets 25 percent of the vote, Romney-Ryan signs are standing out.

There is no denying that there is a real enthusiasm gap, and it is hurting Team Obama.

And then there is this statistic.

Every sitting President of the 20th and 21st centuries who has sought re-election to a second term and won, did so by winning a bigger majority the second time around. Bush, Clinton, Reagan, Nixon, Eisenhower, Roosevelt and Wilson. Indeed, the only president to win by a lesser amount was Andrew Jackson in 1832, making this a durable tradition.

Not even the most optimistic pundits (you know who you are) are predicting that President Obama will win bigger in ’12 than he did in ’08.

That may point to a different election result altogether.

Conclusion:

You should always work a presidential campaign as if you are 5 points behind, but GOP anxiety is ill-founded right now.

The strategy I laid out on October 13th seems spot on in retrosepect, and the issue fundamentals are already in place. If Team Romney’s GOTV is as good as advertised, and deploys properly, anguished network anchors will be announcing the 45th president just after 10pm.

Concerned media colleagues and sympathetic viewers would do well to alert suicide prevention teams for stand-by status at MSNBC.

Some will always be sad, even as the nation triumphs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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