The election seems to breaking President Obama’s way. A tweet from Nate Silver put it this way: “Sample average of national polls released Thursday Obama +0.9, Friday Obama +1.2, Saturday Obama +1.3, Today so far Obama +1.4”
The veritable Pew Research Group, which had Romney up four after the first debate, found them even after the second, and on Sunday found Obama leading 50-47. The national numbers finally seem in line with the state numbers.
Still, I’ve been struggling with this prediction. The national polls remain close. Team Romney wants to claim that this means the election will entail a razor thin victory which could go either way. That sounds very plausible. Yet the state polls have shown a convincing lead for Obama, though greater in breadth than depth. Moreover Republicans have argued that the polls are wrong because they are making false assumptions about voter turn out or purposely skewed to support Obama.
Whose assumptions are right — those expecting a close race and lower Democratic enthusiasm, or those believing Obama is on track to win?
Here are my assumptions:
1) Voter turnout will be roughly in line with 2004 and 2008, with Latino vote increasing.
2) While early voting won’t be dominated by the Democrats this time (after 2008 there was no way the GOP would punt on that the way McCain had), the increase of GOP voters doesn’t mean a large increase in Republican votes. That’s because Republicans are very likely to vote anyway. It just shows that both parties recognize the importance of early voting and are making it a priority.
3) The polling this cycle is not off base or skewed. Blaming the pollsters is common for the side that’s behind.
Dr. Michael McDonald predicts a turn out of 60-61%, and he specializes in making such calls. That’s in line with 2004 and 2008. Moreover, 2008 was not a year where voter turnout increased massively due to Obama’s “hope and change.” To expect a decline in turnout in a hotly contested election in which billions were spent doesn’t make sense. Finally, in surveys Latinos and blacks show intense enthusiasm for the election, even though Republicans claim their voter share will go down.
In many states efforts to pass voter ID laws and limit early voting may in fact be spurring on minority turnout. It’s not just about President Obama, it’s personal. “Governor Rick Scott would prefer I don’t vote,” one black man said. “I’m not going to let him win.” Indeed, the so-called “voter suppression efforts” of this election cycle may backfire.
Going over the polls from each day over the last month, the election has followed a clear if often tumultuous path.
After the two conventions it seemed President Obama was on a roll. The GOP convention had sounded bitter and pessimistic while the Democrats beat an optimistic drum. Just when Obama’s convention bounce started to fade the “47%” tape came out. Romney seemed a caricature and Obama supporters like myself started to think this could be a landslide.
Everything changed on October 3. It wasn’t that Obama was so flat it was that Romney was so different than his image. Rather than barking out a desire for massive tax and spending cuts with disdain for government, he came off as a reasonable moderate. He was nothing like the Mitt Romney of the GOP primary season, nor did he sound like the plutocrat dissing the “47%.” He was reasonable, clever and made the President look ordinary.
The President’s support had been soft, based on a strong negative view of Governor Romney. Public perception of changed. He caught up to Obama within days, and by the time of the second Presidential debate had opened up a 3 point lead. The campaign was slipping away from the President. He was still ahead in most swing state polls, but it was clear that the firewall he constructed in September was a Maginot line — a defense Romney could circumvent and overcome.
While Vice President Biden’s defeat of Paul Ryan energized Democrats, it was the second Presidential debate that stopped the bleeding for Obama. He was perceived as having won the debate by putting Romney on the defense and turning potential problems (like Libya) into strengths.
The third Presidential debate saw an inverse of the first. This time Governor Romney, believing momentum on his side, sat on the lead, hoping to look Presidential and undercut any image of him as a war monger. He was docile, agreed with the President, and polls gave Obama a victory by about the same proportion they gave it to Romney in debate one.
Since then there has been a slow, steady drift back to the President Moreover, Governor Romney never sealed the deal after the first debate. He showed that he could be moderate and pragmatic but never gave people a true reason to vote for him.
Until the last few days I was not confident that Obama was going to pull this out. It “felt” like Obama was winning, but intuition is a dangerous indicator. Bias is driven by intuition and hunch. If it “feels” like the race is going the way you want it to, it’s probably because you want it to! Bias can blind people to the obvious.
I look over at right-leaning blogs and note that their belief Romney will win tends to be driven by conspiracy theories (the polls are purposely skewed in some vast left wing conspiracy to demoralize Republicans) or scenarios not justified by data (there will be very low turnout from minorities and Democrats or people are sick of Obama and will make up their minds late to make a change).
The evidence suggests Obama is heading towards victory. Not a sure thing, but I think Nate Silver’s 85% odds are on track.
Monday I’ll post my predictions on how the states will go as well as some thoughts about the House and the three same sex marriage ballot initiatives which may end up making this an historic election. Two more days!