President Barack Obama has had his first really political good week in over a month and it could not have happened at a better time for a candidate who has struggled in his bid for a second term.
Hurricane Sandy provided Obama with an opportunity to not only look presidential but to appear bipartisan, complete with photo ops and effusive praise courtesy of the man who delivered the keynote address at the Republican National Convention.
And as the residents of neighborhoods affected by Sandy’s flooding and wind-caused power outages continue to literally live in the dark and in the rearview mirrors of the campaigner-in-chief and his media praetorian guard, President Obama’s poll numbers have finally received the bounce that he never got from his “victories” in the last two debates.
Several national polls conducted on the eve of the election give the president a one-point edge over his Republican opponent, while others have Obama tied with Mitt Romney. Pew Research gives the president his biggest lead. 3+.
The president has done even better in the latest battleground state surveys, with leads in New Hampshire, Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Iowa and Florida. If we are to accept these poll numbers at face-value, then Obama will be given another four years having won all of the states he carried in 2008, sans Indiana and North Carolina.
But there have been questions about the validity of those surveys, specifically about their samples, which are the pool of people being solicited for opinions. Republican strategist Karl Rove has alleged the poll books are cooked with the pollsters adding too much Democratic seasoning to the sample. And he might be right.
But this is what I see.
First, that many of the polls cited in the media have been conducted by Public Policy Polling, which has been classified by the folks at Real Clear Politics as being Democratic oriented. I’ve been in politics long enough to know that polls can be manipulated to tell their sponsors what they want to hear and broadcast. Marist has also been singled out by Rove for adding too many Democrats in their sample.
Secondly, I see an incumbent president with all of the resources of the office at his disposal, a fawning media protecting his image and a popular culture that has deified him, hitting no higher than 50% in some surveys and below that even in the polls where he leads. Whenever an incumbent struggles to break 50%, he is in trouble, no matter party affiliation. I also see Obama leads that are well-within the margin of era, which generally is 3%.
Thirdly, I see a political battlefield that has been eroding for the president. Despite having served as the site of their convention, North Carolina has been abandoned by the Democrats. As much of the fight is taking place on the president’s ice (Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota) as Romney’s (Colorado, Florida, Virginia). Presidential candidates coping with contracting geography generally give concession speeches on election night.
Fourth, I see the Bradley Effect in play, in which people might say they’re for the president to pollsters but go in a different direction once in the voting booth. Some Obama partisans have declared that to oppose the president’s re-election is an act of racism. In a society that agonizes over the matter of race and where someone could lose his or her job and reputation for the sin of telling an off-color joke, there’s a social pressure involved that can’t be gauged.
Supporting the possibility of Obama’s overpolling are surveys that were taken on the eve of the 2008 New Hampshire primary.
Seven surveys had Obama substantially (5%-13% margins) leading Hillary Clinton yet when the votes were counted, the former First Lady won the Granite State primary and staved off the collapse of her campaign for several months. How could all seven polls be so off?
Were the polls cooked or did respondents act like bad politicians, saying one thing and then doing another? There’s a precedent of this happening involving Obama.
Fifth, I see Romney not only winning the national popular vote, but garnering a majority. Al Gore didn’t do that when he received more votes than George W. Bush in 2000. And if Romney wins a majority of the national popular vote then it’s extremely likely he will hit 270 electoral votes or more on November 6th.
Finally, I have consistently seen poll numbers showing considerable cynicism about the direction of the country. In results released on Sunday, a Politico poll showing 53% believed America was on the wrong track, a pessimism gap of 15%. CNN’s results on the same question showed a “hope deficit” of 11%.
How can the leader of a country win re-election with those kind of numbers?
Sure the president’s personal popularity can explain some of the disconnect between this era of bad feeling and his accountability as president for the dour times, but not that kind of gap.
So how does this all play out on election night?
Romney wins 51% of the national popular vote while the president finishes with 48% if not less.
Things will be tighter in the electoral votes because the Democrats are more talented in the art of politics than they are in governance. Obama hasn’t been a national president nor has he been a national candidate and he and his allies have channeled their resources into the decider states.
Though there has been a lot raids by the candidates into their opponent’s bailiwicks, I don’t see much turf being exchanged.
Both sides will carry their parties’ circa 2000 established bases with a few exceptions.
Obama will carry Ohio but Romney will win Iowa, New Hampshire and Wisconsin.
The big early tells on Tuesday evening will be Virginia and New Hampshire. If those two get called early for Romney, then expect the GOP to win the White House. If on the other hand, Obama can take Virginia, then the president will be on his way to a second term unless Pennsylvania and Ohio break to Romney.
Final call: Romney 277, Obama 261.