The Republican National Convention (RNC) came to a close on Thursday, August 30th. It will be followed on Tuesday, September 4th by the opening of Democrat National Convention (DNC). Post mortems are inevitable. Many will carry significant Main Stream Media (MSM) bias while some dissections will be more balanced and objective. An assessment of the ‘state of the race’ has merit now and may provide the basis for a pragmatic future evaluation after the DNC ends.
Some relevant history bears mention correlated to a well-used polling index, the Real Clear Politics (RCP) General Election average of the major national polls, which are calculated daily. President Obama has led Romney every day in the RCP General Election poll since October of 2011. One week (on August 5) before Romney named Paul Ryan as his running mate the RCP avg. had Obama at 47.4% vs. Romney at 44.6% a 2.8% lead. The next day the unemployment statistics for July were released; the unemployment rate grew to 8.3% and 160,000 jobs were created. On August 11th, Romney announced his selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate. The RCP General Election avg. equaled 48.0% for Obama and 43.4% for Romney a 4.6% difference. This difference had declined to 1.2% at the onset of the RNC with Obama holding a 46.8% edge to Romney’s 45.6% rating.
The reality of the timing of this assessment is that a fully measured bounce is not doable. Even the ‘daily’ tracking polls haven’t fully cycled, i.e. Rasmussen’s poll is a 3 day average while Gallup’s is a 7 day average. Further comparing polls is in many cases similar to comparing peaches and pears. Gallup uses an ‘all adult’ (All) poll to measure candidate approval ratings and a ‘registered voter’ (RV) poll to measure the general election race. In contrast Rasmussen applies a ‘likely voter’ (LV) poll to measure both approval and the general election status of the candidates. ‘All polls’ survey adults even those that cannot vote (e.g. aliens, felons, those not registered); ‘registered voter polls’ measure the opinions of registered voters (from 25-30% who do not vote); and ‘likely voter polls’ measure those voters who will usually vote and therefore are much better predictors of election outcomes. Nevertheless, a Reuters/Ipsos poll (RV) released on August 30th gave Romney a 46% to 42% lead over Obama; Romney had started the week trailing Obama 46-42%, thus the new results showed an 8% bounce in this poll. RCP battleground state polling has also moved from plus 4-6% Obama to dead even at 45% to 45% Obama-Romney in the last few days. States such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois have come into play in the past 2 weeks. These states were believed to be safe or strongly leaning toward Obama.
So what does this mean and where are things likely to go in the remaining 60 plus days until November 6th? In fact no one knows. Obama has to defend a record that is not good, particularly on jobs, debt, deficits, spending and growth. Even his foreign policy initiatives are suspect given the realities in the Middle East, Russia, Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea etc. Yet he is the incumbent and Romney faces the daunting task of convincing the electorate that he can fix things…he can and will make things better. Obama has the added advantages of the sycophant MSM bent on his reelection, the bully pulpit, and an appreciable lead with women and Hispanics. Obama, however, has the disadvantages of blow back due to his divisive and very negative campaign, erosion within key voting blocs, a major movie, "2016 Obama's America" surfacing plausible motivations for many of his actions, and the growing credibility of the Romney/Ryan team as a solutions oriented twosome willing to address the ‘big’ issues including entitlement programs.
Obama’s biggest concerns center around his widening disadvantage with independents, his continued approval ratings hovering between 44% & 47% in many polls (a harbinger of an incumbent’s defeat), the fact that the economy is not improving, that job loses grew in July in the battleground states, that only 6-9% of voters remain undecided, that the democrats’ base enthusiasm lags republican enthusiasm, and that up to 24% of the voters are still persuadable giving Romney/Ryan a larger than expected upside. Further the Purple Poll, a respected battleground states poll found that Romney’s selection of Ryan was the cause of small leads for Romney in Florida, Ohio, and Virginia in advance of the RNC. And, the University of Colorado ’prediction model’, a very unique presidential election model, points to a Romney win. This model has accurately predicted every election since 1980 premised on state level economic factors. The Colorado model will be updated with recent economic data in September for the final time. The model gives Romney 52.9% of the vote and 320 electoral votes to Obama’s 47.1% of vote and 218 electoral votes.
In summary, Romney has made appreciable gains in numerous polls subsequent to the selection of his running mate on August 11th. In the RCP average ‘General Election’ poll the gap has narrowed to .1% today after early August when it was 4.0-5.0% for Obama. In many other polls (All & RV) the differential has narrowed to 1-2% during the same time-frame and in most ‘likely voter’ polls (LV) Romney is up 1-3%. This improvement is positive yet possibly ephemeral. A much more reliable review will be possible around September 13th or 14th after the DNC is over and more polling is available. Therefore psephologists drawing hard conclusions now would fall prey to wishful thinking. Similarly placing too much faith in one poll or predictor would be foolish. In the end, even emphasizing the current trends could be misleading since a huge array of factors will come into play in the remaining 66 days of this presidential contest. In other words, stay tuned.