Author Archives: Jim Ellis

States That Favor Obama or Romney: The Weakest Links

In this presidential election, we’ve spent a lot of time considering and analyzing the swing states, saying that those not now clearly favoring one candidate or another are going to be the ones that determine who wins on election night. While this is largely true, today we are going to analyze if there any states commonly believed to be in each candidates’ camp that still could slip to the other side.

Right now, 11 states routinely appear in the toss-up column, 23 states are safe/likely/lean for Mitt Romney, and 17 are rated safe/likely/lean for Pres. Barack Obama. Of those now believed to be trending toward a particular candidate, are some weak enough that the opponent might make a late run for their electoral vote contingent? Yes. As we get closer to the election and trends become firm, it is possible that one of the candidates will have no other choice but to throw a “Hail Mary pass” in one or more of these places.

In the 23 Romney states, three may be weaker than the remaining 20. They are: Arizona, Missouri and Indiana. In the 17 Obama states, the three potentially less than solid domains are Oregon, Minnesota and New Mexico.

Understanding that the preponderance of polling shows the state as expressing only moderate to weak support for either Obama or Romney, let’s examine each place’s voting history to determine if any could be a prime switch candidate.

    Arizona: Lean Romney

  • Republican governor
  • Two Republican senators
  • 5R-3D congressional delegation
  • Republicans control both legislative chambers
  • Last time voting Democratic in a presidential race: 1996
  • Times voting Democratic in a presidential race since 1948, inclusive: twice (1948, ’96)
    Indiana: Lean Romney

  • Republican governor
  • Two Republican senators
  • 6R-3D congressional delegation
  • Republicans control both legislative chambers
  • Last time voting Democratic in a presidential race: 2008
  • Times voting Democratic in a presidential race since 1948, inclusive: twice (1964, ’08)
    Minnesota: Lean Obama

  • Democratic governor
  • Two Democratic senators
  • 4R-4D congressional delegation
  • Republicans control both legislative chambers
  • Last time voting Republican in a presidential race: 1988
  • Times voting Republican in a presidential race since 1948, inclusive: three (1952, ’56, ’72)
    Missouri: Lean Romney

  • Democratic governor
  • One Republican senator; one Democratic senator
  • 6R-3D congressional delegation
  • Republicans control both legislative chambers
  • Last time voting Democratic in a presidential race: 1996
  • Times voting Democratic in a presidential race since 1948, inclusive: seven (1948, ’56, ’60, ’64, ’76, ’92, ’96)
    New Mexico: Lean Obama

  • Republican governor
  • Two Democratic senators
  • 2D-1R congressional delegation
  • Democrats control both legislative chambers
  • Last time voting Republican in a presidential race: 2004
  • Times voting Republican in a presidential race since 1948, inclusive: nine (1952, ’56, ’68, ’72, ’76, ’80, ’84, ’88, ’04)
    Oregon: Lean Obama

  • Democratic governor
  • Two Democratic senators
  • 4D-1R congressional delegation
  • Democrats control the state Senate; the state House is a 30D-30R tie
  • Last time voting Republican in a presidential race: 1984
  • Times voting Republican in a presidential race since 1948, inclusive: nine (1948, ’52, ’56, ’60, ’68, ’72, ’76, ’80, ’84)

As you can see, the states with the most recent history of being in the swing category on multiple occasions are Missouri and New Mexico. Democratic Oregon has actually gone for the other party just as many times as New Mexico, tied for the most among these six, but the last time it strayed to the Republican presidential candidate was all the way back in 1984.

It is probable that these six states will remain right where they are currently forecast, but as the election draws near and patterns begin to formulate in the 11 toss-up states, don’t be surprised if at least one of the candidates begins to look elsewhere in an attempt to expand the political playing field. If so, such a move will likely occur within this universe of six states.

The VP Debate and a Changing Map

The vice presidential candidates took center stage for one night last evening, and at least the in the CNN poll (conducted by Opinion Research Council of 381 debate watchers via post-event telephone interviews), results suggested that Paul Ryan fared better than Vice President Joe Biden.

A 48-44 percent pro-Ryan division relating to winner perception was recorded, though a slight over-sampling of Republicans was present in the CNN respondent universe. Ryan scored more favorably on two critical perception points, being more likable (53-43 percent) and better expressing himself (50-41 percent). Of those sampled, 28 percent said they are now more likely to vote for Mitt Romney because of this debate, versus 21 percent who made similar comments in relation to Pres. Barack Obama.

Thus, the debate ended with neither candidate scoring a knock-out blow or inflicting serious damage upon their own campaign effort. It is likely the after-effects from this forum will be short-lived, which likely helps Romney because he has the current momentum.

Last night, Real Clear Politics also released their version of the new electoral map. According to them, based upon all polling data to which they have access, the president has a safe/likely/lean count of 201 electoral votes from 16 states and the District of Columbia, while Romney’s commensurate total is 181 from 22 states. Curiously, RCP lists Missouri in the Undecided/Uncommitted column. Based upon complete voting history since 2000, inclusive, and the fact that Romney has led in virtually every Show Me State poll, it is more than plausible to add their 10 Electoral Votes to the Romney column. If so, the challenger would pull within 10 votes of the president, leaving 146 votes in 11 states as uncommitted.

Among the states moving into the Undecided/Uncommitted category are two places with a clear Democratic history in presidential elections, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Once the votes are completely counted, it is more than likely that both of these domains will remain in the president’s column but the fact that he is having to fight so hard to keep them is indicative of his weakening national standing.

The remaining nine states: Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Iowa, Colorado and Nevada are the ones we have been analyzing for some time. It is clear that some combination of these states will make the final electoral determination in early November.

Assuming the moving of Missouri to Romney and Michigan and Pennsylvania to Obama prove correct, then the Republican would need 79 Electoral Votes to win the Presidency and Obama 33. Of the Undecided/Uncommitted states on the current board, the Republican’s easiest path to victory would include Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nevada. This would give Romney a bare 270-268 victory and send him to the White House.

While originally it was thought that a challenger would have to carry Florida, Ohio, and Virginia to defeat Obama, it is now possible to win with taking Florida and only one of the latter two. With more states firmly in play, the Romney campaign now has several options to possibly cobble together a winning coalition of states in order to reach the magic 270 electoral vote plateau.

Getting through last night’s VP debate with both sides intact, means the stakes for the remaining two debates grows even higher. Pressure will continue to mount upon both candidates and what remains true is that the final defining events for this particular presidential election have yet to occur.

Pollster Projects Romney Win in Fla., N.C., & Va.

Suffolk University’s David Paleologos

On Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News program, “The O’Reilly Factor,” Suffolk University polling director David Paleologos rather surprisingly announced that his institution would no longer conduct presidential surveys in the core swing states of Florida, North Carolina and Virginia. He says that Republican challenger Mitt Romney will carry the trio, representing a combined 57 Electoral Votes. If true, this would have a stunning effect on the national election.

Paleologos has several reasons supporting his decision to project the three states, all of which voted for President Obama in 2008. First, he says, in Florida, 12 candidates are on the ballot. When questioning the respondents who say they are supporting someone other than Obama or Romney, the overwhelming majority cited the Republican nominee as their second choice. He reasons that most people pledging for a minor candidate will move to one of the two major party contenders when they actually cast their ballots instead of wasting their vote on someone who cannot win.

Paleologos also cited the absentee ballot request forms in Florida as another fundamental reason that Romney will win the Sunshine State. He argues that of those people officially requesting ballots, 43.4 percent are registered Republicans versus 39 percent who identify as Democrats. Of those already returning their voting envelope, 45.5 percent are Republican as compared to 38 percent Democratic. In North Carolina, 52 percent of the absentee ballot requests are from Republicans with just 27 percent coming from Democrats. He is less specific about his reasoning for including Virginia in this group of states.

Though some of the support points for Suffolk’s decision are sound, it is way too early, and the margins too close, to begin projecting such states for either candidate. Just look at the major swings occurring within the last two weeks, yielding trends that no one predicted. Much will continue to happen in the next month to determine the actual winner. Suffolk’s polling withdrawal decision is quite premature.

Romney Strikes Back

Just before the Oct. 3 presidential debate, conventional wisdom held that the national race had effectively ended and President Obama was on the threshold of clinching re-election. He was consistently ahead in all nationwide polls, and in every key swing state. Oh, what a difference a week makes.

With his debate performance as the catalyst propelling Republican nominee Mitt Romney back into contention, a series of new polls now shows a complete race reversal.

Eight national surveys were released yesterday and, for the first time, it is Romney who leads or is tied in the preponderance of them. Gallup, the American Research Group (ARG), Public Policy Polling, and the Investors Business Daily’s TIPP poll all post Romney to a lead of one or two points. Two studies, Ipsos/Reuters and Rasmussen Reports, project a tie between the two candidates, while UPI/CVoter and Zogby Research for The Washington Times still find the President leading by a lone percentage point.

But the national data tells only part of the story. In the most important core and secondary states of North Carolina, Ohio, Colorado and Nevada, Romney has gained strong momentum and leads in several polls.

North Carolina, by all accounts a critical core conversion state, yields to a Gravis Marketing study (Oct. 6-8; 1,325 likely North Carolina voters) that projects Romney to a major 50-41 percent lead, obviously his biggest margin of the campaign in the Tar Heel State. Along with Florida, Ohio and Virginia, North Carolina is in virtual must-win status for the Romney campaign.

Ohio, another of the four core states, features trends that are mixed in declaring a leader, but all polls show significant movement for Romney. The American Research Group (Oct. 5-8; 600 likely Ohio voters) gives the challenger a one-point 48-47 percent edge. Survey USA (Oct. 5-8; 808 likely and actual Ohio voters) also finds a one point difference between the candidates, but their data still has the President in front, by a scant 45-44 percent margin. Finally, in better news for Obama, the CNN/ORC survey (Oct. 5-8; 888 likely voters) gives the president a 51-47 percent lead.

In the secondary states, the places Romney would need to win should he fail to carry all four of the core states, are also turning in favorable numbers for the GOP challenger. Colorado, a state trending blue in 2008 and electing a Democratic senator in the Republican landslide year of 2010, has been showing signs of returning to the GOP column. The latest ARG poll (Oct. 5-8; 600 likely Colorado voters) gives Romney his first Centennial State lead, 50-46 percent, after following closely behind Obama even in the days when the president was beginning to break away in other places.

Staying out west in Nevada, another state showing signs of returning to the Republican fold after four years of relatively consistent Democratic voting patterns, Rasmussen Reports (Oct. 8; 500 likely Nevada voters) projects the two candidates being tied at 47 percent.

The latest swing toward Romney is actually quite consistent with voter behavior throughout this election cycle. The electorate has often moved both quickly and wildly in responding to late-breaking events. Such is the case with the Romney debate performance. It remains to be seen if this direction holds or if voters will soon snap back toward the president.

The next two presidential debates have now assumed an aura of much greater importance in determining the final outcome of this hotly contested race. Will Romney again be dominant? Will the president rebound? Is the swing toward Romney the beginning of a trend, or a mere blip? Time will soon bring us the answers.

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.