Author Archives: Jim Ellis

Romney’s Debate Win Has Legs

Mitt Romney

The Gallup organization projects Mitt Romney to be the most decisive debate winner in the history of the presidential debates. According to a cell sample of 749 debate watchers questioned over a two-day period following the Oct. 3 forum, Romney was viewed to have won by a 72-20 percent margin, the largest-ever spread. But, does a debate win really carry over into the presidential campaign itself? At least in the short-term, apparently so. Gallup shows the race closing to 48-46 percent in favor of President Obama from the previous 50-45 percent, and the post-debate track reveals a dead even 47-47 percent result.

The Pew Research Center was also in the field during this same time period (Oct. 4-7), recording the responses of 1,112 likely voters from a polling universe of 1,511 adults. Though a few more Republicans were polled than Democrats (403-396), all the aggregate answers were weighted to bring the sampling universe in line with the actual national totals. The weighted responses gave Romney a similar 66-20 percent split in terms of perceiving the debate winner.

Pew also found Romney gaining in some other key areas. In terms of answering which of the two candidate has new ideas, it is now the Republican who is perceived to have them by a 47-40 percent margin, and he’s pulled even with Obama (47-47 percent) as to who is the stronger leader. Romney also is favored to be more successful in reducing the federal budget deficit (51-36 percent), improving the job situation (49-41 percent), and in handling tax policy (47-43 percent). The president is still perceived as the better person to handle Medicare (51-38 percent), health care (47-44 percent, though that margin swung a net 10 points in Romney’s favor since their Sept. 12-16 poll), and in making wise foreign policy decisions (47-43 percent).

The next presidential debates, scheduled for Oct. 16 and 22 will take on a whole new aura and meaning, after what happened in the first meeting. If Romney has accomplished anything, he has put national debating on center stage.

Romney Gaining in Key States

Based upon the media coverage of the first presidential debate, it’s not surprising to witness at least a short-term tightening of the national campaign. Fortunately for Republican nominee Mitt Romney, his standing is also improving in the most important swing states.

In Florida, two polling firms now are projecting Romney to be leading President Obama. The Sunshine State is the Republican’s most important conversion entity because there is simply no way to compensate for losing its 29 Electoral Votes. According to Rasmussen Reports (RR) on the day after the presidential debate (Oct. 4; 500 likely Florida voters), the GOP challenger has taken a two-point, 49-47 percent lead. We Ask America (WAA), which ran approximately 1,200 sample automated polls in the three most important swing states also on Oct. 4, finds Romney now leading in Florida, as well. Their margin is 49-46 percent.

Similar results are found in Virginia, another of the critical four core states. Romney’s easiest path to victory is to convert each of the cores (Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and Ohio), and then take at least one more Obama state that is larger than Vermont or Delaware. The President wins re-election, for all intents and purposes, if he takes Florida or any two of the core states.

Rasmussen Reports, testing 500 Old Dominion state likely voters on Oct. 4, found a 49-48 percent Romney lead in Virginia. We Ask America, also on the same date, detected a 48-45 percent GOP challenger advantage.

In Ohio, RR still forecasts the President to be leading, but by just one point, 50-49 percent. WAA, however, sees Romney forging ahead in this critical state, up by the same one-point spread, 47-46 percent.

Regardless of whether these small margins are completely accurate, they do tell us that Romney did receive, at the very least, a quick momentum surge that penetrated into the states that will have the largest say in determining the final outcome of this presidential election.

It remains to be seen if the Romney debate bump sustains itself for more than a few days. The electorate, throughout the 2012 election cycle, seems all too willing to shift on a dime and the challenger’s improved standing could be yet one more example of this phenomenon. If so, then the vast majority of polling between now and the last week of October won’t tell us too much because we know things can quickly change based upon external events. If Romney’s improved standing holds through the next week, though, then a new, firmer Republican base may well be formulating.

What we can confidently determine is that 39 states and the District of Columbia have made their decision about this presidential contest. Among the decided states, the President enjoys a 201-176 advantage. This means Pres. Obama needs to convert 69 of the remaining 161 Electoral Votes, or 43 percent of them. Romney, on the other hand, needs 57 percent — or 94 of the remainder.

    The 11 undecided states are, from west to east:

  • Nevada (tilting Obama, but approaching toss-up status)
  • Colorado (tilting Obama, but approaching toss-up status)
  • Iowa (pure toss-up)
  • Wisconsin (tilting Obama, but approaching toss-up status)
  • Michigan (leaning Obama)
  • Ohio (leaning Obama)
  • Pennsylvania (leaning Obama)
  • New Hampshire (leaning Obama)
  • Virginia (tilting Obama, but approaching toss-up status)
  • North Carolina (leaning Romney)
  • Florida (tilting Romney, but again approaching toss-up status)

Understanding where the states currently stand, and even giving Iowa to Romney, the president would win re-election with 297 Electoral Votes. But, make no mistake, his political position is precarious. For an incumbent to be this close to losing a month away from Election Day is a bad sign for him because the majority of voters are not yet positively convinced after four years of performance from which to judge. This race remains undecided.

The Shifting October Winds

Poll-watching

October is generally determination month for hot-race candidates, and now that it has begun prepare for some major swings in several political venues.

Recently, with Election Day coming in less than five weeks, we have seen polling that detects significant change in several Senate campaigns, all showing a shift away from the initial leader. With the Senate up for grabs, each race becomes critical and could itself determine whether Republicans or Democrats control the body in the new Congress. Today, we isolate four such campaigns.

In Connecticut, Quinnipiac University released its latest poll (Sept. 28-Oct. 2; 1,696 likely Connecticut voters, +/- 2.0 percent error factor) that finds Democrat Chris Murphy now trailing Republican Linda McMahon 47-48 percent. This is a surprising result and much different from the 48-42 percent Murphy lead that Public Policy Polling found just a week ago (801 likely voters, +/- 3.5 percent error factor). It is important to note that both polling firms have surveyed this race repeatedly. Having the opportunity to study another reputable firm’s results in order to bring a fresh perspective might provide us a better directional indicator.

Shifting to another hot race, we turn to Massachusetts and a recent poll by Opinion Dynamics for the consulting firm Mass Insight Global Partnerships. This rather flawed poll – because the sample size is less than 350 respondents statewide and the survey period is a long five days – posts Democrat Elizabeth Warren over GOP Sen. Scott Brown by a 48-44 percent clip. This same polling firm gave Brown a large 52-42 percent lead back in January. Last week, Rasmussen Reports also released their poll showing the candidates to be in a statistical tie at 48-48 percent (Sept. 24; 500 likely voters, 4.5% +/- error factor). Conversely, that very day, the Boston Globe publicized their data projecting Warren to be holding a five-point advantage over the freshman senator, 43-38 percent (502 likely voters, 4.4% +/- error factor). With continuous polling producing conflicting results it is clear this race is going to come down to the final hours.

Wisconsin continues to provide us with a close and hard-fought Senate race. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2) received a measurable bump in the wake of her speech at the Democratic Convention followed by an extensive early media advertising blitz, and polling indicates that the tide has turned in her favor. At least in the short term, Rep. Baldwin is now the clear front-runner over former four-term governor Tommy Thompson (R), after he consistently posted an advantage before and after the mid-August primary. Two recent polls show Baldwin leading: the first by Marquette University Law School showing a four-point edge, 48-44 percent (894 likely voters), and Real Clear Politics revealing a five-point advantage, 49-44 percent. Republicans, at one point, thought this seat would be a clear pickup opportunity, however, it is currently trending more Democratic. This polling trend could just as quickly snap back toward Thompson once he responds to the current line of attack being put forth against him.

Joining this see-saw Senate campaign group is the open seat race in Arizona. For months, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6) had held a significant lead in all polling against Democratic nominee Richard Carmona, the former US Surgeon General in the George W. Bush administration. After consistently gaining ground on Flake after the Aug. 28 primary, Public Policy Polling, in their Oct. 1-3 poll of 595 likely Arizona voters, puts Carmona into the lead for the first time, albeit by a scant 45-43 percent margin.

It is clear, differing from what we have witnessed in the past four election cycles, that no tsunami wave is emerging for either party this year. As we turn the corner into the homestretch of campaign 2012, it is important to monitor all momentum changes as a barometer for predicting final outcomes.

Obama-Romney, Debate I: Some Agreement

Several points of agreement came from last night’s post-debate analysis of the presidential forum from the University of Denver.

First, commentators from both the left and right were relatively unanimous in their analysis that Republican nominee Mitt Romney was the aggressor and took better command of the debate than a more subdued Pres. Barack Obama. Liberal commentator Chris Matthews went so far as to say the President should watch his MSNBC show and other such programs to better learn how to respond to partisan Republican arguments.

Additionally, there appears to be general agreement that the President not having to directly face a political opponent in four years showed. Some said the incumbent always is at a disadvantage in these types of forums because he must defend his current record. Others echoed statements that expectations were very high for Obama and that he failed to meet them. Most said Romney probably tightened the race because of his performance.

Another area of agreement concerned a generally weak and poor performance from moderator Jim Lehrer. Ironically, his failure to manage the time properly and stop both candidates from exceeding their answer limits actually might have made for a truer debate because there was more direct interaction between the two men. As an amusing aside, Obama campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter went a bit further in her criticism of Lehrer. She said, “I sometimes wondered if we even needed a moderator because we had Mitt Romney.”

Is Maine’s King Losing His Luster?

Angus King

Perhaps until right now, it had been a foregone conclusion that Maine’s Independent former governor Angus King was the prohibitive favorite to replace the retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe (R). After the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and other outside advocacy organizations unleashed heavy anti-King media spending, however, the former two-term state chief executive’s polling numbers have come back to earth. And, in a three-way race where the majority of voters will likely vote for someone other than the eventual winner, virtually anything can happen.

The race pits King against GOP Secretary of State Charlie Summers and Democratic state Sen. Cynthia Dill. King, who champions liberal causes as indicated by his support from the trial lawyers PAC, the Council for a Livable World, and Google PAC, is portraying himself as an independent moderate, even going so far as having actor Sam Waterston appear in a television commercial to echo his campaign theme.

A new GS Strategy Group survey conducted for the NRSC shows King’s lead diminishing severely. Though he continues to place first, his margin is now only 37-33-17 percent over Summers and Dill. In another poll released to MaineToday Media on Sept. 20, King leads 50-28-12 percent. But, driving below the original ballot test numbers for that particular survey, the King supporters who say they are definitely voting for him register only 32 percent.

Maine has a penchant for electing candidates who don’t belong to either major political party. In addition to King, Independent Jim Longley was elected governor in 1974. Two years ago, Independent Eliot Cutler finished a strong second to Republican Paul LePage, losing by less than two points. It is the latter election that Charlie Summers is hoping to emulate. Assuming he holds the base Republican vote of 37-39 percent, Democrat Dill topping 20 percent would give him a chance to slip past King. This would be virtually identical to the vote dispersion that elected LePage.

The Maine Senate race is an interesting one, because if President Obama is re-elected and the Republicans hit 50 in the Senate, both of which are quite possible, it would be King alone who would decide which party would assume majority control. Most believe that he will caucus with the Democrats, which is most likely, but stressing his independence certainly makes it more difficult for him to immediately fall into the Democratic fold. Even his slogan, “… as Independent as Maine,” stresses that Mr. King is not inclined to easily conform to Washington’s over-heated partisan divisions.

The Chamber of Commerce has run a series of ads playing upon King’s name, referring to him as “the King of spending” during his tenure as governor. The claim that he over-spent and then left the state with a huge deficit is resonating in this political climate and is a probable reason for King’s decline. The former governor retorts that he cut taxes, improved education, and protected Maine’s open space.

But the more intriguing part of the campaign revolves around Dill. She has little in the way of campaign funding, so outside organizations are trying to improve her standing. The NRSC, in a negative way, but designed to improve her standing among Democrats, is illustrating that she is even more liberal than King. Meanwhile, outside groups are driving home the message that King is flawed and Dill is the preferred progressive candidate.

The dynamics of the Maine Senate race are the most unusual in the nation, and much more is potentially riding upon the election outcome than who represents the state in Washington. Under the proper circumstances, the entire Senate majority may rest upon this one campaign.