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Romney Inching Up in Presidential Race

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The 2012 presidential election continued to tighten in May. President Obama still leads both in the polls and in our electoral college map, but his lead — within the margin of error — continues to slip.

No new states have flipped into the GOP column; if the election were held today and the national swing away from Obama since 2008 worked out evenly among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, President Obama would win a narrow 285-253 vote in the electoral college.

In practical terms, that means that President Obama’s current level of support is enough to keep Virginia and Colorado in his camp. But a further swing of only 1.92 percent would hand those states, and the election, to Governor Romney.

With the numbers this close and more than five months to go until the election, the only thing we can say now is that both the Democrats and the GOP have a good chance of winning the White House next November. On balance, that is slightly worse news for the incumbent than for the challenger; ideally a sitting president would want a bigger electoral cushion than Obama now has. Undecideds tend to break toward the challenger; our methodology currently divides them evenly between the two.

On the other hand, Romney’s slow rise in the polls looks more as if disgruntled backers of other GOP primary candidates are making up their mind to stick with the party; Romney is rebuilding his base at this point rather than cutting into Obama’s. He won’t win unless he starts taking independents and even some Democrats out of the Obama camp.

As the Romney campaign and the various super PACs assembling on that side of the aisle make their plans, we are going to see how firm the President’s support really is. Since President Obama had no opposition in his own party for the nomination this time around, he has been able to stay in the Rose Garden and hold events that highlight the sides of his presidency and personality he believes will appeal to key groups of voters. But now the Republican artillery is about to launch its first real anti-Obama ad barrages in a spring tryout of themes GOP operatives hope will work in November.

We should soon start to see whether these ads are having an impact, but there are still several months to go before the presidential race really starts.

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  • Everyman

    If the race doesn’t really start for several more months – and it doesn’t – what, exactly, is the purported purpose of this polling and the horse-race piece about it? Can you not muster the decency to spare us such exercises in if/then reporting of myriad unlikelihoods? I speak for no one but myself, but I’d be pleased if you could.

  • John Burke

    At the risk of being a pest, what the current polling as reported and averaged by RCP indicates is that if the election were held NOW, Romney would win — narrowly but win nonetheless. This is true because (a) many of the polls currently being used by RCP in its average are of registered voters, not likely voters, the latter amounting to only about 60 percent of the former and famously leading Republican; and (b) undecideds always break against a well-known incumbent.

  • anon

    A few months ago all the talking heads were saying that it would a brokered Republican convention because the ‘weak’ candidate Romney would never amass enough delegates.

    Now all the talking heads are telling us it will be a close election because the ‘weak’ candidate Romney is unable to connect with (your choice here:) women/minorities/older people/younger people/Southern people/Northern People/East coasters/West Coasters/Jewish people/Christian people/etc.

    My prediction is that on November 7 all the talking heads will be explaining the 40+ state, 400+ electoral votes President-elect Romney will have received as a ‘weak’ showing.

    People are very unhappy with the current administration. But if you live and work in a bubble as do ‘Journalists’ and ‘Academics’ you, and 100% of your friends, are totally behind the President. Since everyone you know or associate with feel that way, it must be so. The should spend some time riding public transit in a big city. What they over hear would jar with their reflex notion that working class folks are solidly behind the Democrats.

  • Lorenz Gude

    I for one enjoy the horserace because its shifting fortunes show the mood of the country. For example Clive Crook of the Atlantic had a piece on why he thought Obama was losing that clearly overlapped in many ways with a recent Jay Cost piece about the struggle for the centrist 10% who will decide the election. Crook is an Obama supporter, Cost prefers Romney, but both are intellectually honest enough to engage the horserace facts we have realistically. Both point out that a majority of voters like the president – even would like to see him succeed, but conversely a majority of these same people don’t agree with his policies. The voters already showed thier disagreement with his policies in 2010, but they now have to decide if they will vent their displeasure by firing the boss and/or by loading up Congress with more opposition. I think Lugar’s fate and other similar occurrences imply that congress will see more non establishment Republicans – Tea Party or otherwise. I don’t think either party has much in the way of answers to the disintegration of the Blue Model, but the electorate didn’t put Obama in to pursue reactionary policies to try to reclaim past Blue glories, but rather invent effective 21st century policies. France just voted for the reactionary approach, but I think the American electorate is determined to stop that way of dealing with the break up of Blue one way or another. So I welcome WRMs commentary on the election as we make our way to the decision point. How we get there is important too.

  • thibaud

    If the economy gets worse, Romney wins, big. If the economy stays the same or improves slightly – and the likelihood is that there will be another QE pumping the economy with adrenaline, in Ray Dalio’s metaphor, this summer – then it will be very, very close.

    But Obama will probably win.

    It would be unwise to discount or downplay the effects of Obama’s $1b in cash + his army of data miners / data scientists / behavioral targeting internet pros.

    With these resources at their disposal, Team Obama will find and reach out directly to every educated woman, every hispanic, every gay or lesbian who’s registered to vote in central OH, northern VA, RTP in NC, Front Range CO, and central FL – and with a degree of precision and intensity that hasn’t been achieved by any presidential campaign.

    If the race is close, the advantage goes to the better GOTV effort. That’s Obama’s, for certain. If Romney were loved by evangelicals, it might be a different story, but his supporters are very diffuse and their support for him is less intense than the GLBT, single women and minority groups’ support for Obama.

  • thibaud

    It’s not “the centrist 10%” who will decide the election. It will be decided in a handful of states, and within those states, by one or two – at most, three – counties.

    And in each of those counties, a superior GOTV (get out the vote) effort within one’s base will trump a stronger showing among undecided centrists.

    The counties that matter in Ohio, for instance, surround Columbus, which has a huge population of gays and lesbians. Colorado of course has a huge hispanic population, as does Central Florida; the hispanic populations of VA and NC have also grown substantially in recent years.

    Obama’s campaign is hiring or being advised by people from Google and other top tech companies who specialize in mining exobytes of data from very diverse, complex sources.

    It would be child’s play for these technicians to scan the registered voter rolls and find and target messages toward a few thousand voters fitting a certain profile in Clark County, OH or any of the other 15-20 counties that will determine this election.

  • Gary L

    Presidents generally face graver crises and challenges in their second term. If you think the last three years have been tumultuous, History would suggest that You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet, should Obama be re-elected.

  • Kris

    thibaud@5: “QE pumping the economy with adrenaline, in Ray Dalio’s metaphor”

    A good metaphor, which captures the advantages as well as the disadvantages of QE.

  • Scott

    Under your current scenario, if Virginia (13 Ev’s) flips to Romney, which I consider very likely, then the count becomes Romney 266, Obama 272. That leaves a lot of paths to becoming President for Mr. Romney.

    Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, New Hamphire, Colorado, and Pennsylvania are all less than 5.2% favoring Obama. Given that the actual voting public is historically typically 5-6 percentage points to the right of most opinion polls, that is not good news for Obama. If just one of those 6 states flips to Romney, he is the winner. If they all go, Romney wins 343 EV’s, to Obama’s 195.

  • thibaud

    Another round of easing by Bernanke will lift stocks and lower unemployment in time for the election. It’s Obama’s to lose, and he and his team have shown they are fiercely determined to win this.

  • Jim.


    Every statement Obama makes that would send four LGBT or pro-Roe voters to the polls for him would send six evangelicals — maybe more — into Romney’s camp. That’s just how US demographics work.

    But ultimately, the chances of it being that close are just too dependent on too many things going right. Europe not only has to stave off colapse, it has to grow at more than a snail’s pace — something that the growth/stimulus folks don’t know how to create, as demonstrated by the US’s experience with greater-than-8% unemployment. The Middle East has to stabilize. China has to recover from its stall– in a way that’s good for American business.

    All that by November, and in the meantime Obama’s distracted by “LGBT issues” that will turn a majority of the country (including a hefty segment of the African-American vote) against him?

    That’s what passes for strategy amongst Democratic leadership these days? Do they want to see the inside of the White House again before 2020? Do they want the “A” in DOMA to stand for “Amendment”? Do they want to see the R-side in control of the Presidency and both houses of Congress again after only 6 years?

    It’s like these people figure if they’re going to lose anyway, they might as well lose for the silliest reason they can find. Perhaps it’s the only thing that will leave their blind faith in the Blue Model intact.

  • John Burke

    A fun way to look at this map is to consider whether Obama could be the first Democrat EVER to win the Presidency without winning a single southern state. No Democrat has ever done that since the party was formed (using either Jackson or Jefferson as the starting point). In modern times, say, since 1960, no Democrat has done it. Despite being recalled as a President very unpopular in the South, in 1960, JFK won six of 11 states of the Old Confederacy. From that year until 2008, only Democrats who were Southerners able to appeal at least to some good old boys — LBJ, Carter and Clinton — won. Al Gore fought GW Bush to a virtual tie but then, W was also a southerner and Gore managed to lose the entire South and most of the border.

    When we come to Obama in 2008, we see that he won three southern states — Virginia, North Carolina and Florida. Presumably, this was due to Obama
    forging “a new map,” by scoring well over 90 percent of
    black votes and benefiting from the changing demographics of those states as they have become, in effect, less “southern.”

    Maybe, but then again, maybe those states were won for the same reason that Obama won many other states and the election — the fall financial panic. If the South reverts to its previous pattern and Obama cannot win there, can he be the first Democrat ever to win without a single southern state?

  • thibaud

    Jim – you’ve misread my post. As with his stunt re. Keystone, Obama re. gay marriage is cynically issuing signals to core constituencies that have no impact on policy.

    Despite your rather fevered comments about the matter, in reality Obama didn’t propose any legislation, didn’t speak to any policy, issued no executive orders – my goodness, the man even said he supported leaving the matter up to the states!

    The chances that any Afr-amer voter will turn against the first and only AA president because of his BS comments about gay marriage – comments that have zero practical impact – are close to nil.

    My whole point is that this is an exceptionally focused, determined and skillful CAMPAIGN organization whose strategy is very clear, cynical – and likely to succeed.

    Again, the math works against the GOP.

    Romney needs to win _all_ of the four battleground states: OH VA FL and CO. Obama only needs to win one of them.

    Romney could win every evangelical and every single traditional marriage advocate in central FL, greater Columbus, the Front Range of Colorado and northern Virginia – and still not carry more than 1 or 2 of the four battleground states.

    The only way Romney can sweep OH FL CO and VA is if the economy falls out of bed between now and November.

    That’s possible, but it’s much more likely that we’ll muddle along, staying more or less the same – AND that another round of QE will pump a bit of adrenaline into the stock market and the economy generally by October.

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