Tag Archives: Iowa

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.