Monthly Archives: October 2012

Did Romney Win A Binder Full of Women Voters?

The full impact, if any, of last Tuesday’s second, town-hall style, debate has yet to be fully felt in the polls, although both the seven-day Gallup poll and three-day Rasmussen tracking poll likely picked up some of the debate impact in yesterday’s releases.  Of course, yesterday’s Gallup results, which show Romney up by 7%, 52%-45%, created a minor media sensation, with Democrats now charging bias, while Republicans suddenly deciding the polls were a pretty good barometer of where the race is at this moment. But you don’t need to think that Gallup has somehow tipped the scales by, for instance, using a weighting procedure that under samples African-Americans, to still remain skeptical of the result. Instead, there are far less sinister reasons why I suggest not overreacting in either direction to this poll.  As I’ve said before, it is the nature of random sampling that there is some uncertainty built into polling estimates. In Gallup’s case that is plus or minus 2%. Second, it is also possible that a poll will be a statistical outlier, through the luck of the sampling draw.  That is why I’ve said repeatedly not to rely on a single pollster if there are other, equally reliable poll results available. This morning, for example, Rasmussen’s daily tracker has the race tied at 48% a piece.  That poll, by the way, includes two days of post-second debate results.  The RCP_election_2012_daily_composite poll sheet also indicates the race is very tight.

Of course, this virtual dead heat comes after almost a month-long period of stability in which Obama seemed to be leading this race by 2.5%-4%.  It’s worth considering what has changed to erase Obama’s lead.  As I suggested in my latest professor pundits taping with Bert Johnson, I think a chunk of Romney’s new-found polling support comes from women voters who are taking a second look at his candidacy.  It is evident from the first two presidential debates that both sides are wooing the women’s vote.  But I think it instructive to think how they are doing so.  In an earlier post at the Economist’s Democracy in America blog site I blamed the genesis of the “gender gap” dating back to the Reagan presidency on the fact that white men have left the Democratic Party, while women have largely stayed put.  They do so not so much because of the Democratic Party’s stance on so-called women’s issues such as abortion rights, workplace discrimination or contraception availability, but because of that Party’s stronger commitment to government programs intended to protect society’s most vulnerable citizens: the old, very young and the sick.  The key to Romney’s polling climb, I think, has been partly his ability to convince at least a few more women voters to look at these issues in terms of the economic dimension. That is, how do increase deficits, slow job growth and a generally sluggish economic impact these more vulnerable citizens?  It has also been a function of his ability, in a side-by-side comparison with the President, to come across as more moderate than what Obama’s advertising had suggested.  That is, at least some women – already willing to look elsewhere for economic reasons – now think that Romney is at least a plausible alternative candidate.  To be sure, as this Pew poll indicates, Obama still leads among women, but his margin of support has eroded, and that is contributing to a tightening of the polls.

This poll, of course, was from before the second debate, and the mini-controversy over Romney’s “binder full of women” comment, and his statement that he supported flexible work schedules so women could get home to make dinner for their kids. Both President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden immediately jumped on Romney’s binder comments in their campaign speeches next day, and many women’s advocates derided Romney’s comment about women cooking dinner as sexist.  But there’s a potential problem with this strategy.  If you were watching the focus group reactions on CNN during Romney’s comments on these issues, as I was, you saw that women actually reacted more positively than did men! I suspect this is in part because many working women will tell you that workforce flexibility is actually very important to them, and for precisely the reasons Romney says – a desire to get home in time to be with family.  (I make no judgment about what this suggests more generally about the division of labor in many households – that’s a discussion for another day.)

My point is that I’m not sure these comments, as viewed, were as damaging to Romney among women as Obama supporters hope. Of course, as I’ve said before, the impact of any debate is mediated in part by how the media chooses to interpret it.  In this case, the media may decide the binder comment hurt Mitt with women voters, in which case it may actually do so.  But it did not appear to hurt him among those women in the CNN focus group, for whatever that is worth.  Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if, despite Romney’s characteristically awkward phrasing, the binder comment may play well with many women – at least those who heard it directly.

This is all a long way of saying that I do not believe the second debate will have nearly the same impact on the polls as did the first, in large part because I think the race has now reached the equilibrium point that the forecast models predicted all along.  Of course, it remains possible that Mitt will lose some of his new-found gains among women voters.  If so, I’m betting it won’t be a huge drop in support.

But don’t take my word for it.  In case you missed the debates, here are the highlights so far (hat tip to Amy Yuen!)

Live Blogging the Second Presidential Debate

Ok, it’s 9:55 and we are on.  As always, we will be watching on CNN.  We have the new blogging software installed, and I’m eager to see how it works, so send me a test comment.

Meanwhile, Candy Crowley just gave the audience instructions – it’s alot like what I tell my students before an exam: turn off electronic hand-held devices, etc.

(Cason: are you on from Italy?  We need the foreign perspective….)

By the way, in what may be an omen – or not – we were hit with a mild earthquake about 1/2 hour ago.   So Vermont is a “swing” state of sorts….

One of the controversies with the format is that Crowley is not supposed to pose follow-up questions, but she has vowed to do so -despite language crafted by both sides indicating that she shouldn’t do this.

The other controversy is that Mitt apparently has never sat on a bar stool, so he’s been practicing all day….

First question: appropriately enough, from a college student.  What’s in it for me?

Mitt comes out emphasizing two themes: I can create jobs, and I’m not an extremist.  Look for him to push both themes all night.  In this case, he’s not cutting student loans.  Obama will push him on this.

Key in this format – remember the questioner’s name, and make eye contact. And here Obama stresses his major theme – he’s already turning the economy around, and no thanks to Mitt.

Once again, remember the target audience here – Ohio!

Obama is overcaffeinated – is there such a thing as too much energy?

And Candy breaks the contract and asks a follow up question – you go, Candy!

(For those of you complaining about our “new” software – it’s not the software I recommended…..sorry about that!)

Mitt is going  to defend the bankruptcy claim – I’m not sure he wants to go there.

(Has Obama’s voice gone up?)  Looks like he’s going to try to needle Mitt.  There is some who argue that Mitt can be rattled in these forums, and that’s when he slips up.. Obama has certainly come out aggressively, and already pushed the Mitt as Vulture Capitalist meme.

Question: gas prices are too high – is it the government’s job to address this?  Mitt will go right to Keystone here. Can you say “pipeline”?  Obama is trying to preempt this, but here comes the outsourcing green jobs too.  This is really a better issue for Mitt.  Will Candy follow up here with an environmental emphasis?

Pipeline – Ding, Ding, Ding!

Obama was ready for the coal comeback citing Mitt’s famous campaign ad promising to close a coal plant.

Mitt is coming across as a bit too much of a bully  here, I think…..and he’s ceding time to the President. …not a smart tactic….

Fact checkers will go crazy here, and they will likely find that both sides are right, depending on how you define terms.  And here’s Mitt citing rules again.  OBama is taking a page out of Biden’s playbook – cut Mitt off, talk over him, and let no point go unanswered.

Pipeline again.

Nice response by Barack to tie lower gas prices to a recession.  And to cite workers in key battleground states.

Mitt once again claims knowledge of rules – and looks a bit like the prissy guy we’ve seen in previous debates.

Question:  taxes.  This should be good.  I expect Barack to push Mitt here on the details of his tax plan.

Mitt scoring really well here with the focus group.  I guess people like tax reductions.  Who knew?  I expect Barack disagrees. Expect him to say the number don’t add up.  And there’s the famous Biden “buried middle class” reference.  It’s all about the middle class.

Well, I’m shocked, shocked!  Barack also wants to protect the middle class!  And the focus group doesn’t mind raising taxes on the wealthy.  Both guys scored well here.  This really get to the philosophical difference between the two candidates, and their parties.

Split camera reveals Obama smiling at Romney’s five-point plan.   Shades of Joe Biden.  Here comes the inevitable attack on Mitt’s math.  So far it’s not playing real well with the focus group.  Women in particular don’t seem to be buying this attack on Mitt’s failure to specify which cuts he will make.  Even the big Bird reference doesn’t work.   Too much detail maybe?  Ah, but support picks up when he summarizes as “Math doesn’t add up.”

Candy doesn’t want Mitt to respond immediately – Mitt is ready to explode!  Mitt doesn’t really answer the question by specifying his numbers, does he?

Question:  gender pay inequities – how would you address this?  Remember, if polls are to be believed, Mitt has cut into the gender gap a bit recently.  Obama should score with his reference to Ledbetter act.  Also, he focuses on education – a winning issue with women.  I expect Mitt to focus on how many jobs women have lost in the last four years.  One of the underappreciated facts of this recovery is that men are doing better than women.

AS Romney talks about actively seeking qualified women, support for his skies among women – men stay flat.  Mitt doing better here than I expected with personal anecdotes, but why no mention of women losing jobs?  Ah, here it comes…. scoring well here.

Obama comes back with healthcare – another winning issue for him with women.  Although the contraception/insurance issue is actually not playing well with women – not sure why.  Ah, but he picks up support when he poses it as economic issues affecting women.

Question:  Tell me you are not Bush.  Mitt; again citing rules, wants to answer the last question first.  Romney – appeals to Latino vote with Central American trade.  Energy independence means no more foreign wars.  Generally scoring well here.   But who will stand up for Big business?  No one ever does.   Generally a strong response here by Romney on a potentially difficult question.  Barack  should have an easier time criticizing Bush!    His partial reference to outsourcing gets a positive blip, but otherwise this isn’t playing well – except when he pivots to what the Obama administration did to curtail unfair trade practices with China.   Interesting pivot at the end here to get the “romney as social extremist” theme in.

Question: You disappointed me. Once jilted, why trust you again?  Nice opportunity for Obama to cite his record, and he is doing it well.  Focus group is generally pleased. But when he pivots to attacking Romney for back millionaires, support drops, particularly among women.  It seems clear that women in particular do not react well to candidates’ attacking each other.  Same story here for the Romney response – not playing all that well either.  Both candidates need to heed Ronald Reagan lesson – tell us how you will make things better!  Romney – contrast the President’s speaking with the record.   “That’s what this election is about”.   Defining statement of his candidacy.

(Ooops – keystroke error – just deleted my comments on immigration!)   Note the audience here – key voting bloc in some key swing states, but both candidates have to tread carefully here.  This is a very polarizing issue, which is why both candidates try to distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants.

Romney has been waiting to pull a Gingrich moment here, and turn the tables on the President’s pension investment overseas, but it falls fall with all the cross-talk.  This started out well for both candidates but really degenerated quickly.

Question:  Benghazi (Seb – here’ s your foreign policy).   Note that Hillary fell on her sword earlier to give the President some cover on this issue.   Still, not a good issue for the President here.  “Hunt them down” – scores big with the focus group.  Shades of Bush!  And, don’t forget, I killed Bin Laden so I have credibility.   Look for Mitt to come back strong here.  Ok, maybe not.  Not quite sure focusing on Obama’s fundraising is really going to score points. Hmm…interesting tact here – Mitt is using this question to unload on all of the President’s foreign policy.   Candy has a follow up question – I think this is only the second one of the night.

The President is doing a great job here wrapping himself in the commander–in-chief flag, and it’s scoring well.  Romney’s effort to pin down Obama’s language is not really working here. Good exchange for the President.

Question:  What have you done about assault weapons?  Obama – weapons designed for soldiers shouldn’t be allowed on the streets.  But that’s only part of the problem.  Obama pushes a broader agenda here, and it seems to be playing well.  Romney pivots away from outlawing particular types of guns, and instead moves to broader socioeconomic issues.  Scoring well here as well. Both candidates played this well.  And Mitt gets in a shot at Fast and Furious.  Not sure a lot of people know the details about this?  Candy is having none of it – she wants to pin down Mitt’s views on assault weapons.

“Governor Romney was for a weapons assault before he was against it.”  Poor John Kerry – he will forever be tagged with that line…

Question:  Outsourcing of Jobs is bad. how to stop it?  Haven’t heard much about Bain yet, but it’s coming now!  Throw in the 47% comment while you are at it….Meanwhile, Mitt engages in some China-bashing and, by the way, label China as currency manipulator.  Obama is going to mention all the cases of unfair trade practices he’s brought against China.

Hmmm, now it’s the President who is going to close loopholes!  Candy wants to know how to get American companies to bring jobs home.  Mitt – level the playing field.  Obama – invest in advanced manufacturing.  (With whose money? He doesn’t say…)

Question: biggest misperception of you as man, and as a candidate?  Mitt: I’m not a 47% kind of guy. I believe in God. And the Olympics.  And got 100% of Massachusetts kids insured.   This quickly veers into a policy manifesto….

Obama – Bringing some passion here.  And here comes the 47% comment – and it falls flat with the focus group.   He’s was doing so well! Once he moves past this, however, and goes back to advancing opportunity, he scores better.

Ann is immediately on the floor – and here’s Michelle.

Let’s see how the post-debate spin plays out. I have to think the Obama supporters are happy.  Their guy came up off the mat and fought at least to a draw, if not an outright win on points.  (Time for the sports analogies).  I thought Mitt scored on the economic issues that favored him, but he made more obvious errors (the Libya exchange) and too often came across as too focused on rules, and scoring debating points.  Obama parried as well as he could on the economic issues, but it’s generally not a winning area for him.  But he was more aggressive and did a better job on keeping Romney on the defensive in terms of explaining himself.  And when he could wrap himself in the commander-in-chief role, he was able to bring some passion and righteous indignation to the debate.

Keep in mind that there are two narratives here – the one based what actually transpired, as seen by the audience, and then how the media interprets what happened.  The two do not always coincide.   We will have to see how the tweets play this – I completely forgot to see how the alternative universe was playing this – anyone keeping track of that?

On the whole, although Obama may be viewed as the “winner”, I’m not sure this is going to have nearly the polling impact that the first debate did, but that was my belief heading into this.  Both sides got all their talking points in, and did generally well in stressing their winning themes.

The key question to me is whether Obama’s aggressiveness scored points, but at the expense of laying out a positive vision as an alternative to Romney.  Romney, on the other hand, did what he always did: stayed relentlessly on message, which was jobs, jobs, jobs.  His major weakness was getting distracted by petty squabbles on rules and factual disputes. If I was a truly undecided voter, it’s not clear to me that either candidate earned my vote.

Remember, when you see a poll saying who “won” the debate, you need to also check on the partisan makeup of the viewership that was polled. I suspect Obama will be judged a slight winner, but probably not enough to move the polls among undecideds.

Ok, I took a quick look into the bizarro world of the twitterverse.  Here’s some selected tweets:

Maddow: “probably, I think, the best debate of Barack Obama’s career as a national politician.”  I’m sure she’s seen every one!

Erick Erickson@EWErickson

“Obama definitely did better than the last time, but I don’t think it was enough. Romney kept reminding everyone about Obama’s record.”   I’m shocked, shocked!

The Atlantic@TheAtlantic

.@JamesFallows breaks down tonight’s debate: Obama was strong, Romney was rattled (Fallows is a former Carter speechwriter.)

“Luntz focus group of former Obama voters calls it a win for Romney.”

This is why I love the twitterverse – neither side lives in reality.  Instead, they create virtual reality.   The strangest thing is they really, really,  really believe their alternative reality is real!

More spin:

“I’m still trying to figure out why Steve Schmidt wants me to believe that this debate wasn’t a TOTAL knock-out for PBO. #Debates #MSNBC

“Jay Cost@JayCostTWS

Candy Crowley did Obama a real disservice tonight by fact checking wrongly.”

And this: “RT @kakukowski: Candy Crowley now says @MittRomney was right: “He was right in the main, but he just chose the wrong word.”

This is a reminder why I’m down on “fact checking” – the Libya story is being spun by both sides as proving that their guy was right, and the other side was wrong.  The “truth” is that “reality” rarely can be summed up as either completely black or completely white.

Great participation tonight – thanks to all! I’ll have another go at the blogging software.  Maybe the third time is the charm? Meanwhile, I’ll be on tomorrow with an post-mortem.



Why I’m Not Scratching My Head About The State Of The Election Today

Steve Lombardo, a former Romney adviser in 2008, writes this in his Huffington Post column today: “Any serious observer of the presidential election has to be scratching his/her head. In mid-September Obama was on track for reelection because Romney, at that point, had been deemed unacceptable by a vast segment of the electorate. Now, in mid-October, the President is dazed, staggered by a near knockout in the first debate and a subsequent Romney surge that seems to have the Governor on a winning trajectory. The problem is that neither scenario accounts for unplanned events.”

Except that’s not true.   This race is essentially tied not because of “unplanned events”, but because of perfectly predictable events; as we get closer to Election Day, more and more voters are behaving almost exactly as political science forecast models suggested they would.    As I said again and again, although Obama was outperforming the economic fundamentals in many of the swing state polls during September, that did not mean that this election was not going to tighten as more voters begin tuning into the race.

But pundits persist in insisting that rather than responding rationally to the state of the economy, voters are instead a fickle bunch who are largely ignoring the economy.  Consider this observation today by another pundit who, citing a Gallup poll titled “U.S. Economic Confidence Best Since May, tweeted this: “I give up trying to make sense of this election.” Evidently he doesn’t understand how the race could be tied if voters’ economic confidence is on the rise.  Again, however, if you look at the actual poll, (and not just the title), it’s pretty clear why Romney and Obama are running neck-and-neck.

The reality is that despite the positive trend recently in voters’ economic outlook, the poll actually shows that more Americans continue to be pessimistic about the state of the economy.  Their collective confidence may be the best since May – but that’s not saying a helluva lot.  And that pessimism is largely driving today’s polling numbers.  Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index is based on the combined responses to two questions, the first asking Americans to rate economic conditions in this country today, and second, whether they think economic conditions in the country as a whole are getting better or getting worse.  The Index is then computed by adding the percentage of Americans rating current economic conditions ((“excellent” + “good”) minus “poor”) to the percentage saying the economy is (“getting better” minus “getting worse”), and then dividing that sum by 2. So, an index above zero indicates that more Americans have a positive than a negative view of the economy; values below zero indicate net-negative views.  As you can see, the index is still strongly negative.  So, is it surprising that as Americans increasingly tune into the election to consider which candidate they will support that Obama’s “lead” has eroded?  I don’t think so.

Look, I’m not saying everything is unfolding in this election precisely as anticipated – every campaign has unexpected twists and bumps in the road.  But if you told me back at the start of September that this election would be essentially tied with less than three weeks to go, I would have thought you were reading my posts!

Which lead us to tonight’s debate.  I’ll spare you a rehashing of the ubiquitous “Five Things Candidate X Must Do To Win”  comments, and instead simply remind you to listen to what the candidates say more than watching how they say it. Candidates’ posturing and body language is a vastly over rated phenomenon, in my view.  While I expect Obama to come out more energized, and to be more pointed in his critique of Romney’s policy platform, I don’t think there’s a lot of room left to change the campaign narrative on either side.  This election is about where it should be, and if history is any guide, we aren’t going to see Obama move more than 2 polling points – at most – in either direction.

I will, of course, be live blogging the event. We’ve upgraded our blogging program to make it easier to comment (so I am told!), so I hope you’ll join in.  Remember, this is the most crucial event in the campaign so far – I know this because most of the talking heads told me so.  And they can’t be wrong.

I’ll be back on at about 8:45.  See you then…. .

The Second Debate: “Hear What I Say, Not How I Say It”

In his interview with me for his column today on the larger-than-expected impact of the first presidential debate, New York Times’ media columnist David Carr wondered why the debate mattered so much, particularly given the fragmented nature of viewing audiences in the social media era.  “How,” Carr asks, “is it that a ritual as old as Lincoln-Douglas — or Socrates versus Gorgias if you want to go all the way back to the Greeks — was able to move the needle at a time when audiences are so fragmented?”  In my answer to him, I made a couple of points.  First, debates still offer the only opportunity for voters to see both candidates on the stage together with each of them able to convey their views directly, rather than as portrayed through the other side’s negative advertising. Second, this was a widely-watched debate – the most widely viewed since the second presidential debate in 1992.  (That was the one in which George H.W. Bush was panned for looking at this watch, suggesting he was bored with the whole affair. It also included third-party candidate Ross Perot.)  Among first debates, it was the most widely viewed since 1980, when 70 million watched President Jimmy Carter square off against Ronald “There you go again” Reagan.  Moreover, this audience number does not include those who tuned in via computers, phones or tablets, or who watched it outside the home.  That means roughly half the number of expected voters in this election tuned in to watch the show, and for many it was the first time they seriously thought about who they wanted to vote for, as opposed to who they thought was getting the best of the media coverage.

Interestingly, a bit less than half that audience – about 31 million – came from the 55 and older set, compared to only 12 million in the 18-34 age bracket.  Romney has generally been doing better among this older age group.  Among media outlets, Fox News dominated the cable stations, with their total viewership during the debate almost matching that of the regular broadcast stations at CBS, NBC and ABC.  All this suggests that Romney was able to capitalize on having an audience that was a least partly predisposed to want him to do well.  And he didn’t disappoint.

Of course, as I’ve noted before, it is not unprecedented for the incumbent president to see a slight polling dip after the first debate; although the First Bush received a miniscule polling bump coming off his first debate in 1992, Clinton lost 1.5% in 1996 and Bush The Younger saw his numbers drop 2.3% in 2004.  (Clinton, however, headed into that first debate in 1996 with a polling number near 60%, so his drop may have had little to do with his debate performance per se.)  A glance at the RCP composite poll suggests that Obama lost more than 2% in his polling support after the Oct. 3 debate – that’s actually in the range experienced by both Clinton in 1996 and Bush in 2004. However, Obama was starting from a lower polling point than was Clinton or even Bush.  Combined with Romney’s gain, Obama’s loss meant that we saw about a 4-point polling swing, which was enough to turn this race into a virtual dead heat.

It also raises expectations for tomorrow night’s second presidential debate which may attract a bigger audience than the already large audience that saw the first debate.  That was the case in 2008, when the viewing numbers went up for the second debate, but not in 2004.

 So, what should we expect?  To begin, tomorrow’s event utilizes a town hall format, with Candy Crowley of CNN serving as moderator. One of the interesting aspects of Carr’s column was the degree of attention paid by the media experts he interviewed to Romney’s and Obama’s body language during the first debate, including their facial expressions which were caught on split screen. They seemed to think it made a big difference regarding perceptions of who “won” the debate.  I don’t doubt that the media-driven narrative which determines who really “won” the debate is heavily influenced by perceptions of “body language.”  But when it comes to determining how viewers vote, I tend to put far less stock in body language or facial expressions. It is true that the town hall format gives candidates more opportunity to interact with an audience, and with each other, which potentially allows more latitude for body language to come into play.  For example, in their town hall-style meeting in 2000, Al Gore sauntered into Bush’s space while the latter was giving an answer, prompting some audience laughter when Bush gave him a bemused nod of greeting.

I mentioned above about Bush the Elder glancing at his watch. Maybe that mattered; in contrast to the first debate, he lost about 2% in polling support after the second one. In 2008, the second debate was also a town hall format, and it featured John McCain’s celebrated case of stage roaming, which was parodied in an unforgettable Saturday Night Live Skit.  McCain was also perceived to have lost that debate.

Despite these memorable moments, however, I tend to think what the candidates say, as opposed to how they say it, will have a far greater impact on how audience members vote.  In 1992, if Bush’s performance in the second debate contributed to his losing the election, it did so not because he looked at his watch, but because he gave a somewhat rambling, and defensive answer on a question that cut to the heart of the campaign: was he doing enough to dig the country out of an economic recession? In contrast, as you can see here, Bill Clinton’s response suggested he had answers to that question – or at least understood the reason for the question.

This is why town hall-style debates can prove troublesome – it’s not the physical interaction so much as the often more direct audience questions that can throw candidates.   To be sure, these questions are vetted beforehand, but that still leaves room for audience spontaneity.  Tomorrow night, the audience will consist of some 80 or so presumably “undecided” voters whose questions will be screened by Crowley, who also has the authority to ask a follow up question of her own. (Or at least she is asserting that authority!) Presumably, Crowley will pick questions that pertain to the central issues at the heart of this campaign: taxes, the budget deficit, and health care. Neither Romney nor Obama has shown Clinton’s ability to show empathy with a questioner – the Big Dog has the capacity to make questioners feel like they are alone in the room with him.  In contrast, Obama conveys more of a professorial, somewhat dispassionate persona, while Romney can come across as uncomfortable or worse.  But I don’t think that will matter nearly as much as what they say in response to these questions. If the President is not more effective at communicating the differences between his policies and Romney’s, and doesn’t do a better job putting Romney on the defensive, particularly regarding his proposed tax and Medicare policies, he’s going to lose this debate regardless of body language.  That’s because when it comes to debates, the overriding maxim is “Hear what I say – not what I do.”

About That Electoral College “Firewall”

I have been saying for some time now that if Romney began closing the gap in the national tracking polls, as the political science forecast models suggested would be the case, he would also gain ground in the battleground states.    This is precisely what has happened.  In the table below I show the change in the Rear Clear Politics composite polls in the seven tightest swing states across the last 10 days – that is, from shortly before the presidential debate to today.

State RCP Composite Oct. 3 RCP Today Obama Change
Ohio Obama +5 Obama +1.3 Obama -3.7
Florida Obama +2 Romney +2 Obama -4
Virginia Obama +3.5 Obama +.4 Obama -3.1
Colorado Obama +3.1 Romney +.7 Obama – 3.8
North Carolina Romney .8 Romney +3.3 Obama -4.1
Nevada Obama +5.2 Obama +1.2 Obama -4
New Hampshire Obama +6 Obama. +.7 Obama -5.3


As you can see, in his 10-day post-debate polling surge, Romney has gained an average of 4% across these seven battleground states, which collectively total 94 Electoral College votes.  This is a near-uniform surge, and it is consistent with what I have been harping on for so long now – a rising Romney tide will float all states’ polls, more or less.  (Keep in mind that the frequency of polling varies across each state.)   To be clear, there were signs that the race was tightening before the first presidential debate, but that event apparently served as a focusing point that pushed the race more rapidly toward where the forecast models, taken as a whole, suggested it should be.   I don’t expect that the Biden-Ryan debate will have nearly the impact on the state of the race as did the first presidential debate – but then, I didn’t expect the first debate to have quite the impact it did!   Still, if the post-debate instant polls are to be believed, Biden and Ryan fought to a draw.  That certainly was not the collective judgment of those who watched the presidential debate.

My larger point, however, is that I never put much stock in the notion that the Electoral College would serve as some type of firewall that would protect the President from a Romney surge in national polls.  In this regard, several of you have asked whether it is possible that Romney might win the national vote, but lose the Electoral College vote.  Sean Trende has an interesting analysis of that possibility here, and he concludes that while the possibility of such a split is higher this year, it is still exceedingly unlikely for reasons that I have discussed here before: historically, the popular and electoral college votes tend to line up very closely.

As evidence, Trende examines the last 15 presidential elections, and compares the winning candidate’s national popular vote margin of victory with his vote margin in the state that “gave” him his 270th Electoral College vote – the one that put him over the top, so to speak.  He finds that the difference in vote between the two measures is quite small – .9% on average.

Why is this important? Because Trende is essentially extending my logic regarding the link between national and state-level voting which, in turn, determines the Electoral College results.  I have argued that they tend to trend together.  Trende tries to measure that more directly by estimating how “biased” the Electoral College, which is based on state-level votes, is in any given election. To do so Trende looks at the difference between the national vote margin and the popular vote margin he winning candidate receives in the state that gives him the 270th vote.  That difference, he says, tells us how much the winning candidate was rewarded (or penalized) by Electoral College.

To follow Trende’s argument, let’s look at the current race and estimate the Electoral College bias, as of today. Romney currently leads in the national vote, according to the RCP composite average, by .7% (in an earlier version of this post I had that number wrong).   If we add up all his strong and leaning states based on polling so far, he is likely to win at least 181 Electoral College votes.   To pick up the additional electoral votes necessary to get to 270, he has to win some combination of the 12 or so battleground states.   Let us assume he wins the ones in which he leads as of today – Missouri, Florida, Colorado, and North Carolina. That gives him an additional 63 Electoral College votes – still 26 votes short of victory.  If we look at the remaining tossup states, he runs closest to Obama in Virginia, where he is down by .4%, New Hampshire at .7% and in Ohio by 1.3%.  Virginia has 13 E.C. votes, New Hampshire has 4, and Ohio 18.  Based on these biggest polling deficits, Ohio is the tipping point state – the one that if Romney wins he will go over 270 votes. Romney has to gain an additional 1.4% nationally to overcome Obama’s lead in Ohio.  Assuming a uniform vote swing, that gain would also give him victory in Virginia and New Hampshire as well and he would clinch the Electoral College.   Put another way, if you compare Romney’s current lead in the RCP national poll – .7% – with Obama’s lead in Ohio – 1.3%, using Trende’s logic the Electoral College, as of today, is biased toward Obama by 2%.   That’s a relatively large bias compared to the average of .9% that Trende finds for the previous 15 presidential elections.  It means that to avoid an Electoral College/popular vote split, Romney must win the popular vote by more than 2% (again, assuming a uniform polling swing between the national and state vote).

Of course, there are a lot of assumptions built into this argument, as Trende quite readily acknowledges, beginning with the idea that changes in national support are felt equally across the states.  More significantly, perhaps, it assumes the race will hold steady at its current configuration for the next four weeks.  However, as my table above indicates, it has been anything but steady in the last 10 days, and there are two more presidential debates to go.  There’s no sign that Romney’s surge has peaked, and he may very well cut further into Obama’s lead in Ohio and other battleground states.  On the other hand, Obama may regain his footing and retake the lead in the national polls, bringing them more in line with the state-level polling and thereby reducing the Electoral College “bias”.

This is all a very speculative exercise, of course – particularly this far out – but it is one way to think about the likelihood of a popular vote/Electoral  College discrepancy in outcomes. Taken as a whole, the political science forecast models project this to be a very tight race.  That certainly increases the probability that there will be a split. Note that Trende’s chart indicates that in 7 of the last 15 elections the Electoral College was biased against the popular vote winner.  Based on current national and swing state polling (remember – this could change), that’s the scenario that appears most likely this year – Romney does better in the national popular vote than he does in Ohio. Remember that in 2004 Bush also underperformed in Ohio, his tipping state, by .4% compared to his national vote total. Gore did so as well in Florida in 2000 by .5% – of course, he also lost the Electoral College vote despite winning the popular vote , while Bush held on to win.   Moreover, Obama over performed in the Electoral College tipping state of Colorado in 2008 relative to his national vote margin by a rather large 1.8%.  If the national vote is as close as the models project, and Obama is able to work similar magic in Ohio this time around by dint of a superior ground game, we could see a split.

But if this suggests the probability of a popular vote/Electoral College discrepancy is perhaps higher this year than in past elections, it still doesn’t mean it is likely to happen.  I still think it more probable that the state-level polls will continue to trend toward the national polls, thus reducing the possibility that we will see the winner of the popular vote lose the Electoral College.  Of course, I haven’t yet discussed an even more exciting scenario – an Electoral College tie!

UPDATE: Romney’s RCP national lead has gone up since I originally wrote this, but he remains behind in Ohio, which further increases the Electoral College “bias” in favor of Obama.  I have to think the Ohio race will see more tightening. Stay tuned.