Conventional wisdom says that this election is destined to be close, if only because so many people have already made up their mind and are unlikely to be persuaded to change it.
I think the conventional wisdom is wrong. I’ve been keeping track of daily polls on my 2012 Polls! page, and what I’m seeing causes me to think that the electorate may be tipping to the Democratic side in a level not unlike how the GOP scored in 2010. That would mean a Democratic wave, not only securing a second term for President Obama, but also keeping the Democrats in charge of the Senate and perhaps endangering the GOP House majority.
Why I may be right
Obama is clearly up in every swing state but Florida (and most polls show Florida at least leaning Obama), and has even taken a lead in North Carolina, a state assumed likely for Romney. Despite tracking polls that show a close race, more major polls show Obama opening up a 5 to 8 point lead on his challenger. The well regarded Pew poll with a sample of over 2000 likely voters showed Obama up 8. Nate Silver notes that pollsters who use live interviews and call cell phones as well as land lines are the ones that show a larger Obama lead. These polls are generally regarded as more reliable.
But it’s not just Obama. All over the country there is a surge for Democratic Senate candidates. Democrat Elizabeth Warren went from about five points down to Scott Brown in Massachusetts to being a few points up. Most people thought Democrat Tammy Baldwin didn’t have much of a chance in Wisconsin against the popular former Republican Governor Tommy Thompson. From being down near ten, she’s showing a consistent lead in the polls.
In states like Michigan, Ohio and Florida, where the Republicans thought they had decent shots at grabbing Democratic Senate seats the incumbents are starting to open up double digit leads. The most likely GOP pick up earlier this year was Missouri, but thanks in part to Todd Akin’s missteps the Democrats look set to hold that seat.
Not long ago the question about the Senate was how many seats the Democrats would lose and if they could keep control. Now it’s possible they could gain seats. If this is a true swing to the Democrats, this could impact House races and instead of winning the predicted 10 to 15 seats the Democrats could win 30 or more – enough seats are vulnerable that a wave could pull ones into play that people think are likely to stay Republican.
Finally, there doesn’t look to be anything that can change the dynamic, save some kind of external shock. Mitt Romney has proven himself an extremely poor candidate, unable to arouse excitement or generate support. He’s always been a weak candidate, the idea he’ll remake himself in the next six weeks hard to imagine. On top of that reports today suggest that the vaunted Romney money advantage may not exist. That’s been the one hope of the Republicans, that an ad blitz in the final month might pull their man over the top. Now it looks like neither candidate will have a clear financial advantage, even when Super Pac money is calculated into the mix.
Why I might be wrong
The Rasmussen and Gallup tracking polls continue to show a tight race, and they may be right. Moreover, this bump up in polling numbers for the Democrats may mean they are peaking too soon. The Republicans have time to adjust and respond. If this had come in the last couple weeks of the campaign, the GOP would be caught off guard.
While Obama and Romney may be tied in money, the Republicans have more to spend in Congressional races, and they’ve only begun to invest there. Even if Obama is pulling ahead of Romney that’s just a sign of how bad a candidate Romney is; the economy and other factors still favor Republicans. The Democrats may keep the Senate, but there is no sign that this is part of a larger wave spreading to the House.
Finally, the biggest reason I may be wrong is that the idea of a Democratic wave seems completely implausible given conditions in the country today.
Why a wave in 2012?
When unemployment is at 8.0%, the economy sluggish, and the incumbent Democratic President has a job approval rating of under 50%, how could the Democrats possibly have a good year?
Here’s how it could be playing out: through the summer the public was willing to give the Republicans a shot. Mitt Romney had a reputation as a moderate, and people considered breaking with Obama. However, Romney’s been an unbelievably weak candidate, dogged by constant missteps. He insulted the British during a trip abroad designed to show his foreign policy credibility, he couldn’t put aside controversy over his taxes, and Obama’s team engineered a successful summer ad campaign defining Romney as a secretive plutocrat. Then the conventions juxtaposed an angry and pessimistic Republican gathering with an upbeat, optimistic and even celebratory Democratic one.
Side by side, the Democrats spoke to centrists and average Americans while Republicans preached to the converted. Add to that Romney’s Libya reaction and the leaked tape, and the public developed a distaste for a Republican party that seemed angry, a bit mean spirited and pessimistic. Meanwhile, Democrats disappointed by Obama’s inability to bring about the change they desired became enthused about the election thanks to a strong convention and a desire not to let the Republicans win.
And the economy? Most people aren’t suffering. Disposable income is rising. People aren’t going to vote on the basis of the jobs report or unemployment rate. They’ll vote on how things feel to them. They also recognize how bad things were in 2008, and still blame the Republicans. By not offering a new vision for the future, the GOP forfeited their chance to argue that they are a force for change in 2012.
The result: a possible Democratic wave, caused less by the Democrats’ success or popularity than by a Republican failure to offer a new, persuasive and optimistic vision of what America could become with their leadership. At this point some of the most vicious attacks on Romney are coming from conservatives and Republican insiders.
In short, campaigns matter, especially if one side runs a very, very bad campaign with a weak candidate.