Monday marks the 99 day countdown to the November 2, 2012 presidential election. A contest which many consider the most important of their lifetime. That's a tough call for me since I still recall the feeling of victory the night Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter and how important that election was.
But however you rank it, the importance of this election cannot be underrated. The decision boils down to this: will we continue down the road to enabling a massive federal government to run every aspect of our lives or will we free the American people to once again use their God-given rights to make a better, more prosperous and peaceful world?
A Draw Thus Far
Since the GOP nominating contest came to an end in late winter the contest between Obama and Romney has basically been a tie with Obama holding a slight edge in the Real Clear Politics average:
Real Clear Politics is a valuable resource for following the election. It provides links to the latest national as well as state polls. But keep in mind that poll averages are an imperfect measure. They take all the latest polls, no matter what standards or methodology and lump them together. It's like combining apples and oranges to make cider/juice. And with some polls oversampling Democrats and operating under the false assumption that turnout among various Democrat groups will be as high as it was in 2008 there are a lot of flawed polls affecting these averages. Garbage in, garbage out.
Better to follow the trends within a few reliable national polls. Both Gallup and Rasmussen confirm the RCP average and show the race to be basically a tie between Obama and Romney.
Obama Negative Attack Failed
With Obama remaining below 50% in nearly every poll his campaign attempted to break out with a massive negative ad attack on Romney. Obama spent more than twice as much as Romney in June, with much of it going to negative ads. His campaign has run a deficit for two months in a row as his fundraising has not kept pace with his spending (unlike his spending in government, his campaign cannot keep this up for long). Obama has outspent Romney almost 2 to 1 in negative ads yet an analyst of the polling numbers over this period finds insignificant change in Obama's favor. More disturbing for the Obama campaign was the recent finding in the Gallup Poll which shows that despite Obama's attacks more people think Romney's business experience would be a valuable asset in a president.
Obama's negative attacks also undermine the already tarnished image of him as a new kind of leader. That theme, the centerpiece of his 2008 campaign, will come back to haunt him. Some of Mitt Romney's most effective ads remind voters of just how far we have come from hopenchange. Here's a Romney ad featuring an excerpt from Obama's 2008 speech accepting the Democrat nomination for President:
OBAMA: "If you don't have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare voters. If you don't have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from."
There is recent polling evidence that suggests Obama's negative attacks are already undermining his personal favorability rating.
Election a Referendum on Obama
Unlike 2008 where the Obama campaign was able to create a phony narrative suggesting Obama was some kind of new politician who would rise above the usual partisan noise and bring some sort of vague change, Obama now has a record. And second term elections ARE a referendum on the incumbent, no matter how desperately that incumbent tries to change the subject by attacking his rival.
Two separate polls for The Hill newspaper illustrate Obama's problem. In the first, a majority has changed the country for the worse. In the second, a plurality blame Obama for the slow economic recovery over Bush and Congress.
In February 2009 Obama sat down with NBC's Matt Lauer and declared "I will be held accountable. I've got four years...if I don't have this done in three years there's going to be a one term proposition." Time's up and Obama's record of failure speaks for itself.
Danger Signs for Obama Campaign
In 2008 Obama pulled off an impressive win over McCain with a margin of nearly 7% (Obama 52.9, McCain 45.7). He did so by a record turnout of new voters particularly among the young, Hispanic and blacks.
The same discontent we see with Obama in general polls on his record are also mirrored in those groups of new voters from 2008 that he needs to vote again in 2012. A recent Gallup poll finds that the youth vote which was pivotal to Obama's 2008 win may not bother voting this time around. Even black voters are discouraged that unemployment in their community is 6% higher than the national average. Gallup finds that Jewish support has dropped ten points since 2008. Across the board enthusiasm among Democrat voters is down sharply from 2008. Obama has been working feverishly these past months to shore up his weakened coalition. One downside from that is the continued erosion of support from independent and middle class white voters who view his pandering to the extreme left of the Democrat Party with distaste.
While the micro metrics above are troubling for Obama so are the macro. The Real Clear Politics average for Obama's Job Approval continues to give a slight edge to disapprove. And Direction of the Country continues to be strongly negative. Again, look to the separate trends of reliable individual polling firms like Gallup and Rasmussen to confirm.
In short, all the headwinds that propelled Obama to victory in 2008 have turned the other direction and favor Romney. That being said, Romney's victory is anything but assured.
The Electoral College: Winning State by State
Obama won the 2008 election with 365 votes. It was a huge swing from the 2004 Bush vs. Kerry result. Here's a chart which illustrates the swing by state:
But in the 2010 Congressional mid term elections the pendulum swung back sharply giving the GOP one it's best historic wins. This is particularly true in the Great Lakes states. Signs from the failure of the effort by Democrats to recall Republicans in Wisconsin show that this trend is still active.
What Romney must do to win is pick off 96 or more electoral votes that Obama won in 2008. I put together the following chart showing the low hanging fruit. I have added Michigan to the chart since it's Romney's home state and also demonstrated a Great Lakes effect in 2010 with a huge win for Republican Rick Snyder in the Governor's race.
- Electoral Vote.Com. Run your mouse pointer over the various states for the latest information. Click on a state for the latest polling trends.
- Real Clear Politics has state by state polling averages.
- 538 has a wealth of statistics and analysis. It's a New York Times site so beware!
Draw Your Own Election Scenario
270 to Win.Com has an interactive map on which readers can do their own 2012 electoral college forecasts. After you do your map there is a button to share the link to your forecast. Feel free to drop that link in the comments section of this post.
The bottom line is that turnout will decide who wins. Obama is facing multiple headwinds and GOP voters enthusiasm is high. If these trends continue it's hard to see how Obama wins. The 2010 big win for the GOP might just have been a warm up act!