Author Archives: Jim Ellis

What the Polls are Really Saying

Republican lobbyist Mike Barbera contributes a guest column today, sharing his views about the presidential election. On Friday, we will feature a piece reflecting the Democratic perspective.

By Michael Barbera

It doesn’t seem to make any sense …

The American economy is burdened with sustained unemployment at levels never before seen in American history. Gas prices are through the roof. The budget deficit and national debt are both sky-high. Household incomes are down, and the housing market is still decimated all over the country. And that’s just the news here at home. Overseas, our embassies are attacked, our diplomats assassinated and our soldiers in Afghanistan are slaughtered by our so-called “allies.”

And yet according to the polls, until his poor debate performance in the first debate, Barack Obama was winning the race for the White House. In some polls he was ahead narrowly, in others he was ahead comfortably — but he was always ahead. How can that be right?

The simple fact is, it’s not. The president may or may not be ahead, but he is not winning. In fact, anyone who looks at the numbers closely realizes that the president’s electoral standing is perilous at best.

Why is it that so many talking heads have spent much time telling us that the president was winning? Quite simply, most of them read polls in a lazy and simplistic manner. Most observers only focus on the “horse race” — who is ahead and by how much. And for most of 2012, the president was ahead. So pundits simply regurgitate the numbers and pretend they know something.

At this stage of the race, horse race reporting doesn’t tell us very much. It doesn’t matter if Pres. Barack Obama leads former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by three points in Ohio or by six in Wisconsin, or whether he is ahead by one point in the Gallup poll or by five in the latest poll by the AP.

Here is what matters: how far is Pres. Obama from getting over 50 percent of the vote? And the answer, based on any fair reading of the evidence, is that he has a lot of work to do.

Look at the Real Clear Politics averages in the key battleground states. Even before Romney’s recent surge, the president was stuck between 47.1 percent and 48.8 percent in Florida, Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina, Iowa and Colorado. Karl Rove reported in the Wall Street Journal the day before the Denver debate that in 91 recent national polls “Mr. Obama was at or above the magic number of 50 percent in just 20. His average was 47.9 percent. Mr. Romney’s was 45.5 percent.”

The polls have now shifted after Romney’s strong debate performance and the president’s weak one in the first debate. The challenger cut into the president’s lead and in some cases erased it altogether.

That brings us to another popular myth about the polls — that they are constantly shifting. In fact, the president’s numbers have remained very steady. With the exception of a slight spike after the Democratic convention, the president is where he has always been — in the mid-to-high 40s. He has a solid base of loyalists, but he has not yet closed the deal with most voters — despite dominating the airwaves. According to the National Journal, as of Oct. 1, the Obama campaign spent a total of $285 million on broadcast and cable television, in addition to radio advertising, while the Romney camp spent just $117 million — and still the president was well-below the magical 50 percent mark. An incumbent stuck below 50 percent in October is an incumbent in trouble.

What has changed throughout the course of the campaign is the level of Romney’s support. This is no surprise. Like it or not, the American people have seen Obama in action. Most voters know whether they like him and whether they think he is doing a good job. Very few voters are truly undecided about him. Until very recently, many voters were very much undecided about Mitt Romney, however. That is why the president spent so much money over the summer on a steady drumbeat of negative advertising. The American people were not convinced by those ads, many of which were powerful. They wanted to decide for themselves about Mitt Romney, and a record 67 million people watched the first debate. Mitt Romney picked a good day to have a good day — and the president picked a bad day to have a bad one. Romney’s strong performance shook up the race, and he is almost certain to win decisively among late-deciding voters.

Many polls are also overstating the president’s support. These polls are using turnout models based on the 2008 election, which means the pollsters are betting that the electorate of 2012 will look a lot like the electorate of 2008. This is likely to be a losing bet.

The 2008 election featured the following: a historically unpopular Republican president, an economic meltdown one month before the election, an incredibly motivated Democratic base, a demoralized Republican base, record turnout of young voters, blacks and Latinos, and a sizable number of Republican crossover votes for Barack Obama. Does that sound like the electorate we have today? Yet many seemingly reputable pollsters construct their polling around 2008 models. I believe the technical polling term for this is “wishful thinking.”

If we look at the polls with a trained eye — and not simply repeat the horse race numbers fed to us by lazy pundits — it is clear that Obama is not winning. And if he isn’t winning now, he’s not likely to be ahead on Nov. 6.
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Michael Barbera is a lobbyist and consultant with the American Continental Group.

Tracking Ohio

It can be argued that the presidential election is coming down to Ohio. It is very likely that the eventual winner will carry the Buckeye State, and that entity will be enough to put Pres. Barack Obama or Mitt Romney over the top nationally. There are other scenarios — either candidate losing Ohio but carrying Wisconsin and Colorado, for example – but the voting patterns suggest that Ohio will choose the winner.

That being the case, let’s check the latest Ohio polls. Six separate polls measuring the Obama-Romney campaign were just released and these are the results:

• Angus Reid (Oct. 18-20; 550 likely Ohio voters):
  Obama 48%; Romney 48%
• Gravis Marketing (Oct. 18-19; 1,923 likely Ohio voters via automated calls):
  47% Tie
• Public Policy Polling (Oct. 18-20; 523 likely Ohio voters):
  Obama 49%; Romney 48%
• Pulse Opinion Research for Let Freedom Ring organization (Oct. 15; 1,000 likely Ohio voters):
  Romney 47%; Obama 46%
• Quinnipiac University (Oct. 17-20; 1,548 likely Ohio voters):
  Obama 50%; Romney 45%
• Suffolk University (Oct. 18-21; 600 likely Ohio voters):
  47% Tie

Can it be any closer? For the second time in 12 years, deciding the presidency could come down to just a handful of votes.

A Close Look at Swing State Electoral Votes

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that all of the latest publicly released presidential election state polls are accurate. If so, then the nationwide electoral vote count would post Pres. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to within four votes of each other.

First, from a national popular vote perspective, seven polls have been completed within the past few days (Gallup, Rasmussen Reports, Investors Business Daily TIPP, Gravis Marketing, Ipsos Reuters, Public Policy Polling, and the University of Connecticut) and the president leads in four of them, Romney two, and one is tied. Obama’s largest lead is three points. Romney’s best margin, via Gallup, is six points, 51-45 percent. This tells us that with two weeks remaining, the presidential race is still undecided.

Turning to the all-important swing states, the CNN/ORC Florida poll (Oct. 17-18; 681 likely Florida voters) gives Romney a 49-48 percent lead. Fox News (Oct. 17-18; 1,130 likely Florida voters) posts the Republican to a 48-45 percent advantage. Rasmussen Reports (Oct. 18; 750 likely Florida voters) registers a 51-45 percent spread, also in Romney’s favor.

Turning to Iowa, Public Policy Polling (Oct. 17-19; 869 likely Iowa voters) finds Romney holding a 49-48 percent razor-thin margin over the president.

The Mellman Group, polling for the liberal Americans United for Change organization (Oct. 15-17; 600 likely Nevada voters) finds the president commanding the advantage within the Nevada electorate by a 51-43 percent margin. This is the largest Nevada spread shown for either candidate in quite some time, so the result should be looked at skeptically. For the sake of our model, however, we will place Nevada in the president’s column.

Public Policy Polling, also during the Oct. 17-19 period, surveyed 1,036 likely voters in New Hampshire. There, they found Romney leading Obama 49-48 percent.

In North Carolina, we have split results. Grove Insight, polling for the liberal Project New America (Oct. 17-18; 500 likely North Carolina voters) actually gives Obama a slight lead, 47-44 percent. More in line with all other polls conducted in the Tar Heel State, TelOpinion for the North Carolina Republican Party (Oct. 12-13; 500 likely North Carolina voters) projects Romney with a 49-45 percent advantage. Since the preponderance of recent polling gives Romney the edge here, we will project North Carolina in the Republican column for the purposes of this spot analysis.

Looking at critical Ohio, the Fox News Poll (Oct. 17-18; 1,131 likely Ohio voters) continues to show the president holding a small advantage, 46-43 percent. While other places seem to be leaning toward Romney, Ohio has not fully turned. It is this state that could be the determining factor, as it is one of the few big states that does vote for both parties.

Virginia is another swing state that could be determinative and the new Rasmussen Reports data (Oct. 18; 750 likely Virginia voters) puts Romney ahead of the President 50-47 percent.

And, in Wisconsin, Rasmussen Reports (Oct. 18; 500 likely Wisconsin voters) gives the president the slightest of leads, 50-48 percent.

Understanding that a two- or three-point poll is within the margin of error, the actual vote could go either way; however, we can develop an electoral vote model based upon the above data just presented. Remember, for the sake of our analysis exercise, we are going to presume that all of these polls are exactly accurate, with the one exception of placing North Carolina in the Romney column because more polls favor Romney.

Factoring the aforementioned states as they are currently polling, and using the 2008 results for the ones not recently surveyed, with the exception of adding Indiana and the 2nd Congressional District of Nebraska to the Romney column, the national count would give the president 271 electoral votes and Romney 268. This means that any additional Obama state converting to Romney would give the national victory to the challenger.

It will be an interesting two weeks.

House Surprises

Surprising trends: Ricky Gill (left) / Rep. Scott DesJarlais

With only 18 days remaining in the current election cycle, changing House races are putting strategists and campaign experts in a state of flux. In certain places we have seen significant change and major surges from unexpected candidates. Below we review two Red and Blue examples of potential seat changes that political experts originally did not forecast, but which have suddenly become key races to watch.

Initially considered a long shot, Ricky Gill, the 25-year-old Lodi, Calif., resident challenging Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA-9), has proven his viability. Gill’s parents, immigrants from India and Uganda, are both obstetricians who also own a vineyard and an RV park in the local community. Gill has raised $2.3 million during the campaign, while Rep. McNerney, who has served almost six years in Congress, raised just under $2 million. Gill has approximately $1.1 million left to run his campaign, which is about $108,000 more than the Democratic incumbent according to campaign disclosure statements for the period ending Sept. 30th.

His impressive fundraising made him a star candidate within the National Republican Congressional Committee, and the party responded by financing a media advertising and robo-call program to help Gill gain the offensive against McNerney.

Given the district’s Democratic tilt (56 percent Obama ’08), Gill was originally not expected to fare particularly well. With a surge of fundraising power, youthful candor, and strong GOP establishment backing, the young challenger has made the battle with McNerney a neck-and neck race.

Moving to a very red district in middle Tennessee, freshman Rep. Scott DesJarlais dodged a major redistricting bullet when the state senator who helped design the new seat that spread 65 percent of the congressman’s district into other areas, failed to challenge him. However, DesJarlais now finds himself dealing with another set of problems.

Campaigning as a family values pro-life candidate, DesJarlais has now been accused of having an extra-marital affair and subsequently encouraging his mistress to have an abortion — before discovering that she was not pregnant. Obviously the scandal has caused DesJarlais immediate political problems, and even though Mitt Romney is likely to rack up percentages exceeding 60+ percent in CD-4, DesJarlais is starting to feel pressure from Democratic state Sen. Eric Stewart. In fact, a new post-scandal revelation poll just released earlier this week (Myers Research & Strategic Services; Oct. 14-15; 400 TN-4 likely voters) reveals only a five-point spread between the two candidates, with DesJarlais leading 49-44 percent. We can expect to see a quick influx of Democratic money moving into this district as they attempt to steal this strongly Republican seat.

The parties are also likely to trade a pair of scandal-tainted seats on the eastern seaboard. The respective parties appear to have conceded the FL-26 seat to Democrat Joe Garcia as he battles freshman Rep. David Rivera (R). Allegations of financial scandal never materialized, but charges that the Florida congressman attempted to funnel money to a straw man Democratic primary candidate have come to light and, with his associate who was apparently managing this straw man candidate’s campaign who then fled when the FBI wanted to question her, has turned the 26th District race into a circus. All Garcia needs to do his remain quiet and he will claim victory on Nov. 6.

In New England, the tax fraud conviction and jail sentence of Rep. John Tierney’s (D-MA-6) wife will almost assuredly now cost the congressman his seat. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has already cancelled more than $600,000 of television advertising, and Tierney himself withdrew over $300,000 of this own ad time. This is a clear signal that Republican
Richard Tisei’s poll showing him leading by a substantial margin (50-33 percent) is likely accurate.

With three weeks to go until Election Day, other races could also develop.

Senate Balance of Power is Murky

The nation’s presidential choice is not the only political decision still undetermined at this late date. It now appears that as many as 13 US Senate races are either in the toss-up category or on their way to being categorized as such. In addition to the mainstay toss-up campaigns, we find that the Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, Virginia, Wisconsin, Nevada, Indiana, Florida and Ohio races are not yet put to bed, either.

Swings and shifts in places like North Dakota, Arizona, Connecticut and Pennsylvania suggests that once perceived clear-cut trends in those places are now less certain.

With the presidential race likely coming down to the votes from a state or two, the Senate majority could as well. The Republicans need a net gain of four states to secure a bare minimum 51-seat majority, while the Democrats need to hold their losses to three in order to maintain chamber control.

A probable Republican loss in Maine and possibly failing to retain Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts means the GOP would have to convert six Democratic seats. Since former Sen. Bob Kerrey does not appear particularly competitive in Nebraska, the real majority number recedes to five. Converting the open Democratic seat in North Dakota is now considered a must-win situation. And, taking at least two of the three pure toss-up campaigns in Virginia, Montana, and Wisconsin now becomes a requirement. Additionally, the Republicans would still have to win at least one long-shot campaign, from a state such as Florida, Ohio, New Mexico, Connecticut, and possibly Pennsylvania. The long-term toss-up seat in Missouri appears to be breaking Sen. Claire McCaskill’s way.

But all of the aforementioned presumes the Republicans hold their own seats in Arizona, Indiana and Nevada, none of which are tightly secured at this writing.

Early in the cycle, with the Democrats having to protect 23 seats as compared to the Republicans’ 10, it was assumed that the odds favored forging a new Republican majority. Now, there are fewer people expressing such a sentiment. If Pres. Obama and the Democrats catch a wave going into the election’s final days, Republicans losing seats must also be considered within the realm of possibility.

So, as Election Day draws nearer, the Senate campaign picture is appearing more cloudy.

Everything Hinges on Florida

Pres. Barack Obama in the Oval Office. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

We’re now within three weeks of Election Day, and after witnessing the two presidential candidates trading direct and core-striking barbs in Debate #2, the electoral vote map continues to refine itself. As we all know, this election is very close and likely still undecided.

While Republican nominee Mitt Romney still performs well in national polls, and in fact is slightly leading most of them, it is Pres. Barack Obama who continues to hold the superior position in the key states. Though Gallup, Public Policy Polling and Rasmussen Reports all show Romney leading nationally by two to four points, the new YouGov panel back survey still gives the president a similar advantage in all-important Ohio. Returning to again survey 851 voters who answered their Sept. 7-14 polling questions (the new poll was conducted during the Oct. 4-11 period), YouGov found Obama leading among these representative Ohio respondents, 50-46 percent. Interestingly, the Obama statewide margin held despite his numbers falling among Ohio Independent voters.

As the map continues to develop and with Romney showing signs of possibly pulling ahead in three of the four key core states (Florida, North Carolina and Virginia), the trends in Ohio are not following suit. Therefore, can Romney win without carrying Ohio?

The answer is yes, but he must prevail in some non-traditional Republican states in order to do so. Clearly, the GOP nominee must carry Florida first, as this is the most important state on the Romney conversion chart. It is becoming unalterably true that he simply cannot win nationally without carrying the Sunshine State. If he adds North Carolina and Virginia but fails in Ohio, what other states must come his way in order to compensate?

Without the Buckeye State, then Wisconsin and its 10 electoral votes become extremely important. But, even with those 10, he would still need another eight votes just to compensate for Ohio, not counting the one extra Obama state he must carry to reach the minimum 270 electoral vote level that clinches national victory.

This could happen by adding Colorado to Wisconsin, which neutralizes Ohio, and then win in either Iowa or Nevada, both of which possess six electoral votes. The combination of 25 electoral votes from the trio of states would allow Romney to reach the 270 mark assuming he holds all of the places John McCain carried in 2008, which does appear likely, and keeps three of the four core states, understanding that Florida must be one of the three.

So, instead of looking at the map from the perspective that the four core states are critical to unseating Obama, the Romney camp now sees two separate viable state clusters, thus adding further victory options.

All of these secondary core states are very much in play, but the president does maintain either a small lead or remains on even footing in each of the four states (Wisconsin, Colorado, Iowa, and Nevada).

Though Romney now has alternative victory paths, in order to carry enough states to win the Electoral College he must convert about a half-dozen states where he is trailing slightly or tied (Virginia, Ohio, Colorado, Wisconsin, Nevada, Iowa), which is no small feat even considering his strong national standing. Though the national numbers are promising for the challenger, the state numbers continue to present more formidable obstacles and the difficulty factor in defeating the President is still quite high.

Is Tierney Done in Mass.?

While a highly publicized scandal appears to be undoing Florida Republican David Rivera’s re-election campaign, a Massachusetts Democrat is apparently feeling similar heat. Early this year, Rep. John Tierney’s (D-MA-6) wife, Patrice, was sentenced to 30 days in prison and another five months of house arrest for her role in falsifying her brother’s tax returns to hide profits from an illegal gambling operation. Though Rep. Tierney himself was not accused of any wrongdoing, he may be coming to the end of his congressional career, nonetheless.

Yesterday, following the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s (DCCC) decision to cancel a $650,000 media buy on his behalf, Tierney’s campaign cancelled $370,000 of television advertising in the Boston market they had previously reserved. This means the congressman’s campaign will have no television airing from Oct. 23rd to the election, unless they purchase new time segments. But, if they were planning such a media re-allocation move as the campaign manager suggests, then why cancel the original purchase carrying lower rates?

The Tierney action follows Republican Richard Tisei releasing a new McLaughlin & Associates poll showing him with a 50-33 percent lead. The Boston Globe, in late September, found Tisei to be holding a 37-31 percent advantage. These moves, plus Tierney’s current ad talking about his wife’s legal woes (and saying he had nothing to do with her admitted illegal actions) suggests that the congressman is effectively conceding the race. Converting a heavily Democratic Massachusetts congressional district such as MA-6 will be a boon to Republican hopes of expanding the size of their current House majority.