JUNEAU: The Inevitable Tightening Of The Presidential Polls

At the time of this writing, 75 days remain before the November 6 election. As is often the case, the inevitable tightening of the presidential race is starting to occur as the end of August approaches. The tightening is not a drastic movement, rather a subtle one, simply because most voters (90 percent according to some polls) made up their minds long ago and are firm in their decision.

While Mitt Romney has improved his standing somewhat in recent polls, both nationally and in the battleground states, he still has a tough path ahead. It takes 270 electoral votes to win the election. According to the latest RealClearPolitics.com assessment of the Electoral College status, President Obama leads with 221 electoral votes leaning either his way or solidly in his column compared to 191 for Romney. On May 20, those totals stood at 243 to 170. To get to the magic number of 270, Romney will need to lock up Florida (29), Virginia (13), and North Carolina (15) and score 22 more electoral votes in other contested states. A win in Ohio (18) would get him close to home. A sweep of the South Atlantic states mentioned above, coupled with Ohio, would give Romney the presidency if he added Colorado (9), Iowa (6), or New Hampshire (4) to that column.

For the same reason, if Obama holds on to his current 221 electoral votes, he has a shorter path to victory. Wins in Ohio, Michigan (16), Wisconsin (10), and Iowa would give him a second term with 271 votes. Other strong possibilities include Nevada (6), Colorado, and New Hampshire and, to a lesser extent, the South Atlantic states already mentioned. Obama clearly has an advantage at this stage of the race.

There are some interesting dynamics at play, however. Outside of New England, the only state where the president has an almost insurmountable lead between Maryland and the West Coast is in his home state of Illinois. He still is ahead in many of the states he won by comfortable margins in 2008, but his lead is often significantly less in those states today. The most significant factor in the presidential race is shaping up to be what happens in the upper Midwest.

Polls are tightening in Ohio, Wisconsin, and Michigan—and to some extent in Pennsylvania. There are several possible factors influencing this trend. The first is Romney’s selection of Wisconsin’s Paul Ryan as his vice presidential nominee. Ryan is the poster child of a Midwesterner. He is Catholic, an avid outdoorsman, comes from a working-class family, and espouses the work ethic of the middle-class. Folks in the key battleground states of the Midwest can identify with him and with what he has to say. Another factor in poll tightening is the indication that Obama is significantly under-performing with the blue-collar Catholic vote that he carried in 2008. They don’t like his stand on ObamaCare and many social issues. Finally, there is the recent strong trend of voting Republican in these key upper Midwestern states. Republican governors have been elected in those states, and many of the majorities in the legislative chambers have gone Republican. That trend should not be ignored.

At the end of August, the race for president is there for either candidate to win or lose. Events beyond the control of each can drastically change the race overnight. Remember that John McCain had a post-convention lead in the race in 2008 before the economy tanked in September and killed his chances. It is obvious that many voters are not happy with the performance of President Obama, and it is equally obvious that they aren’t wild about Mitt Romney as an alternative. Enthusiasm—or the lack of it—will decide this race in November. If there ever was a “base” election, this is it.

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