Roughly 30 days before the 2012 U.S. presidential election, where does the race stand?
It stands basically where it did on Memorial Day in May, when yours truly “put on the old political science hat,” for a moment and forecast the electoral outcome: Obama 300, Romney 238.
That prediction remains unchanged, and, without turning this 2012 election report card into a graduate seminar, nothing has occurred in the campaign over the past four months to suggest there's been a substantial, enduring shift in the electorate.
In late May, President Barack Obama led in most battleground states (sometimes referred to as “swing states”). And in early October, Obama leads in most of the aforementioned.
2012 Election: It’s About Jobs
Also, as of late May and in the time since, Republican Party presidential nominee Mitt Romney, due to a series of unsatisfactory answers regarding his federal income tax reports over the past 10 years, comments that suggest he doesn’t care about roughly 47 percent of Americans, and his declaration that Russia is the United States' No. 1 geopolitical foe, has struggled to make the campaign narrative about job growth and what the nation needs to do to lower its unacceptable 7.8 percent unemployment rate.
And in early October, the narrative remains: Romney, although his campaign has been re-energized by a strong performance in the first presidential debate last Wednesday, still hasn’t convinced a majority of Americans that he has a credible plan that will create millions more new jobs per year than are being created in the current economic expansion.
And most certainly, Romney has not convinced enough voters in battleground states that he has a credible plan on jobs that President Obama does not.
Why highlight “jobs” here, and not other dimensions of the 2012 race? Because it’s the one issue that President Obama is vulnerable on – the one voters care about the most. Disregard media coverage about and Romney’s discussion of tax cuts, Obamacare/universal health care, entitlements, the budget deficit, and even foreign policy (including the Afghanistan War and civil change/unrest in the Middle East): the most important issue for voters in 2012 is: job creation.
Likewise, don’t let Romney’s strong support in Republican-dominated, “red” states distort your assessment of the 2012 race. Job creation matters in these states, too, but understand that these states would have voted Republican whether the candidate was Mitt Romney, Barry Goldwater or Herbert Hoover.
Watch Polls In Battleground States
Rather, focus on the states that are two-party competitive - where either party can win the state’s electoral votes – and there one can see, despite what some conservative analysts are arguing today, that Romney is most certainly not prohibitively ahead, nor is Romney doing very well. Romney’s standing now in the battleground states is basically what it was on Memorial Day: he trails in most states. The poll averages – realclearpoltics.com’s index deploys a telling polling-average:
Colorado: Obama 47.0%, Romney, 47.0%
Florida: Obama 47.0%, Romney 47.0%
Iowa: Obama 48.5%, Romney, 45.0%
Nevada: 50.3%, Romney, 45.7%
N.H.: Obama 50.0%, Romney 44.0%
N.C.: Obama 47.6%, Romney 48.4%
Ohio: 49.0%, Romney 46.0%
Vir: 47.2%, Romney 46.8%
Wisc: 50.8%, Romney 44.2%.
The battleground state electoral total? Giving Romney both Florida and N.C.: Obama 57, Romney 53.
Further, even assuming a Romney win in Florida (which the realclearpolitics.com average does), the overall electoral outcome is: Obama 294, Romney 244.
Obama 294 electoral votes – that’s within 5 percent of the Memorial Day electoral forecast of 300 electoral votes – a small variation. I.E., an Obama total of 295 to 305 electoral votes is not a significantly different electoral outcome from 300.
Intrade.com, where one can place a bet on / invest in 2012 presidential election futures, indicated that Obama's re-election probability was 63.3 percent; Romney's, 36.5 percent, as of Sunday night.
One Caveat: An Extraordinary Event
Of course, there’s always a chance that an extraordinary event – such as another war, or a stock market crash/collapse of the global financial system, or some other catastrophic event – could occur and sway many voters in the campaign’s last month, but know that these events are rare. In 2008, we had one: the acute stage of the financial crisis – a once in 50-year event – and it benefitted then Democratic challenger Obama vs. Republican Party nominee U.S. Sen. John McCain. But to underscore: these extraordinary events are rare.
During almost all presidential elections, the issues - or short-term forces - are objective events: many are economic in nature – and these issues are determined by Memorial Day. Once the issue exists, there’s very little either candidate can do to eliminate it as a factor in the election. Equally important: most voters have decided whom to vote for by Memorial Day. (That’s why yours truly’s prediction occurred on Memorial Day.)
What about Romney’s debate win on October 3? Romney won the debate and registered a strong performance, but know that the debates are wonderful media spectacles, but they affect only a very small percent of the electorate, and do not determine an election’s outcome. Most likely, roughly 3-4 percent of electorate hadn’t made up their mind whom to vote by October 3. And if history is any indicator, these undecided voters will cast roughly half their ballots for Obama, half for Romney: it’s highly unlikely that the first debate winner (Romney) will get 80 percent or 90 percent of these undecided adults.
The first debate, in other words, generated some energy/momentum for Romney, but it is not a game-changer: it will not change the outcome of the election. A post-debate Reuters/Ipsos Poll released Sunday found that Romney has narrowed his gap with Obama:. it’s now Obama 47 percent, Romney 45 percent. However, had the debate been an extraordinary event, Romney would have gained much more. Romney did not – and thus furthered confirmed the small impact that debates have on the electorate.
Rather, from the battleground state polls it’s clear that Americans are concerned about jobs / job growth. And it’s also clear that Romney has not convinced enough voters in battleground states that he has a credible plan on jobs that President Obama does not.
The electoral prediction remains: Obama 300, Romney 238.
To contact the editor, e-mail: