People pay far more attention to polls at this stage in the game then they should, but there’s one piece of them that isn’t getting the attention they deserve. You’ll notice, for instance, that the poll numbers never add up to 100% at this point in the game. That’s because there’s still a significant chunk of voters who remain undecided – but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re up for grabs.
In presidential elections, undecideds almost always break for the challenger, not the incumbent.
If you think about it, it makes sense. We’ve all seen Barack Obama up close and personal for the past three years, so if someone is still undecided about him, then chances are they don’t necessarily like what they see. So why aren’t they in Mitt’s column? Well, they haven’t had the same kind of prolonged exposure to the challenger that they’ve had to the guy in the White House, so they’re probably still assessing whether or not the new guy is an acceptable alternative.
Six of eight presidents seeking reelection performed worse than the final Gallup poll predicted, while one finished the same (Reagan in 1984) and one gained votes (Bush in 2004). Seven of the nine insurgent candidates did better than the final Gallup survey predicted.
• In 1964, Johnson lost 3 points to Goldwater at the end.
• In 1972, Nixon lost 1 point to a third-party candidate.
• In 1976, there was a 4-point swing to Carter.
• In 1980, there was a 3-point swing to Reagan or Anderson.
• In 1984, there was no change between the final poll and the results.
• In 1992, there was a 1-point shift away from Bush. In that contest, there was also a 5-point swing away from Clinton to Perot at the end.
• In 1996, there was a 5-point swing away from Clinton and to Dole or Perot.
• Only Bush in 2004 ran better in the result than in the final poll, by 2 points.
In other words, of the total of 19 points that shifted between the final poll and the election results, 17 points or 89 percent went to the challenger.
He also adds that ” predictions of a close election are all based on polling of registered voters — not likely voters — and fail to account for the shift in votes against the incumbent that has been the norm of the past presidential contests.”
Registered voter polls also tend to lean more Democratic than likely voter polls. Yet, as of today, Romney is ahead among registered voters in both the Gallup – 46 to 45 – and Rasmussen – 47 – 45 – general election polls. That leaves 8 to 9 percent undecided. If past trends hold true, that’s a landslide Romney victory in the making.
The Electoral College complicates the equation, but not by much. State-by-state polling has Romney in equally tight races among registered voters – he’s a point or two ahead in Ohio and Florida, and within striking distance in Virginia. And if you assign the bulk of the undecideds to Romney, he wins the swing states easily.
The Conventional Wisdom, which used to include yours truly, was that Obama has every reason to be confident. In fact, that’s the thesis of a Mark Halperin piece out today in Time Magazine, titled, appropriately, “Why the Obama Campaign Is So Confident.” They claim Romney is a weak candidate, that he’s too right-wing(!), and that the Electoral College map still works in their favor. They hope to define Romney as an unacceptable alternative – too fringe, too boring, too “weird” (code for “Mormon”), too extreme, too unprincipled, too rich, too square, too bad.
The problem is that the epithets they hurl contradict each other.
How can you, for example, be too boring and too weird at the same time? Weird people are many things, but boring isn’t one of them. The campaign ad that complains that Romney wouldn’t have ordered the bin Laden raid is a case in point. Does anyone really believe that Romney will sit on his hands when given the opportunity to take out the most wanted man in the world? Surely Obama doesn’t believe that. The fact that he’s even trying to make that case is prime facie evidence that he’s going to throw anything and everything against the wall in this race and hope that something sticks.
The reality, though, is that this election is not going to be a referendum on Mitt Romney. He hasn’t been president for the past three and a half years. And with only six months to go before he faces the voters again, the guy who has been president still hasn’t been able to close the deal with an undecided voter bloc that constitutes nearly ten percent of the electorate. His approval rating can’t break 50%; the jobs numbers remain terrible, and he kicked off his campaign in a stadium littered with empty seats.
Such photos do not inspire confidence.
Yes, I know – my initial election prediction was that Mitt Romney would win the GOP nomination only to go down in flames against Obama in November.
Well, now chalk me up as “undecided.”