Reëlection Watch: September 8, 2012
We’ve had a busy two weeks. Now the real campaigning begins in earnest. And in Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada.
Of course, our Reëlection Watches look backward a little more than they look forward, so le centre du jour is the Convention Bumps. How are they turning out for the two leading candidates? Let’s take a look.
President Barack Obama’s approval/disapproval rating in the Real Clear Politics average continues to oscillate right around zero. Still. No sign of it budging, during or after either convention. It seems that the conventions haven’t convinced a measurable number of people to change their approval or disapproval of Obama.
In the national popular vote matchup of Obama versus Republican nominee Mitt Romney, the President’s lead has shrunk again in the past two weeks, manifesting itself in a continued topping out Obama and continued growth for Romney. The Romney growth last time came after announcing Ryan as his running mate, and it hasn’t stopped since. As I mentioned last time, we would normally expect the Vice President announcement bump to revert to the mean shortly thereafter, but that any such reversion would be obscured by the convention bump would expect. Thus far, this has met expectations. We’re still too early to see the effects of a convention bump from the Democratic National Convention from anyone but Gallup and Rasmussen, neither of whom have been particularly close to the polling averages. Real Clear Politics shows Obama up by a mere 0.7 points, which puts him in a better position than he was with respect to Senator John McCain on this date four years ago, when he was behind by a point. On the other hand, on this date in 2004 we were seeing polls close to the peak of the Republican Convention Bump, and as the effects of the Democratic Convention Bump were wearing off. By this date in 2004, Senator John Kerry’s was 6.4 points behind President George W. Bush, and he never got close after that.
Obama’s favorability polls have shifted in a strange way of late. Until recently, polls of “Americans” and “registered voters” were more favorable than those of “likely voters”. Now, about 50 percent of “likely voters” have a favorable view of the President, while about five percent fewer “registered voters” feel the same. The two recent “likely voters” polls suggest that his favorables are a point or two below 50 percent. Romney’s favorability polls haven’t changed in a statistically significant manner over the long haul; aside from two clear outliers (both from CNN/Opinion Research), he hasn’t broken 50 percent yet, regardless of the type of sample. Obama still has the edge here.
While these polls remain suggestive of an Obama victory, they are typically farther removed from the key signal of electoral votes than are many other indicators. We’ll hit the others down below.
As of yesterday, Intrade had Obama at 57.8, up a little over half a point from last time.
Overall, things still look decent for the incumbent President, but at the national level the outcome looks far from certain.
The Republican National Convention
Events in Tampa had a near comical level of error. Hurricane Isaac both cost Republicans a day of conventioning and created significant news distraction. Clint Eastwood both created a “WTF” moment and sucked the attention away from Mitt Romney, who should have been the spotlight story on the last day.
Meanwhile, Representative Paul Ryan’s (R–Janestopthiscrazything, WI) keynote address was so full of patent falsehoods that even Fox News had trouble finding nuggets of truth in it. Suddenly, the meme of “Ryan Lies” got legs, and even politically inconsequential stories like his marathon time became news.
On the plus side for 2016, the Republicans had a few solid potential candidates for President. We’ll see in another three years or so which among them can stand up to the level of scrutiny necessary to succeed in the grind of Presidential elections.
Throughout, the convention delegates seemed mostly bored, outside of the final hours of each day. Considering that those people are there because they went through a process designed to admit only the most enthusiastic partisans, that doesn’t bode particularly well for Romney. This is particularly true when one considers the longer story, wherein Romney battled past Donald Trump, Representative Michele Bachmann (R–Stillcrazy, MN), Texas Governor Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. All of those were leading candidates at one point because so many in the Republican Party wanted anyone but Romney. And now that they’re stuck with him, the overall sentiment is something of mild indigestion. If the delegates, the most partisan of the partisan, can’t get enthused throughout three days, what does that say about the enthusiasm of the voters?
A candidate never wants to be in a position where winning requires that your voters hold their noses in the polling booth. In such a situation, many will be driven away from the booth altogether.
The Democratic National Convention
That’s not to say that the Democrats ran a perfect convention. The final day was moved from the football stadium to the basketball stadium. Whether it was due to weather or due to optics, it was a net negative. It would have been far better had the football stadium been the quiet backup plan.
Delegates in Charlotte were a more enthusiastic bunch than their Tampa counterparts. Of course, enthusiastic delegates doesn’t necessarily translate to an enthusiastic base, so this positive doesn’t carry as much weight as the Republican negative I outlined above.
Democrats had their share of good speakers as well, though clearly not as many serious 2016 contenders as the Republicans have. But San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro did give a solid speech.
Former President Bill Clinton did what he always does so well, with a speech full of data, particularly devoid of falsehoods (especially when compared to the Republican counterpart slot held by Ryan), and inspiring in its delivery. It had the unintended consequence of making Obama’s regular stump speech feel muted and flat in comparison. But it also had the intended consequence of illustrating the more complete story of Romney and Ryan’s economic proposals, and to an audience that exceeded that of the National Football League’s opening games, against which Clinton had to compete for live viewers.
Overall, the Democrats delivered a better convention, though not by orders of magnitude. Regardless, convention bumps have steadily been shrinking as campaigning has become a more constant sport, so it’s hard to imagine that either convention will have either a large or lasting impact on the electorate.
The Electoral College
This is the first September edition of Reëlection Watch. The Tossup and Leans bands have narrowed again, as they will twice more: once in the first October edition, and once in our final projections.
Here’s what the Electoral College looks like, based on current polling data:
Here are the states with new data since last time, covering only those discussed around the Internet as “leans” or “tossups”, from reddest to bluest:
- Missouri had a confusing set of polls last time, with two matching the “Leans Romney” trend, and two suggesting a tossup. Two new polls confirm the old trend. Public Policy Polling gave Romney a 12-point unadjusted lead (adjusting to 15 in theory, but I’m beginning to suspect that PPP isn’t as left-leaning these days as they used to be), while the Post-Dispatch/Mason-Dixon poll shows Romney with a seven-point lead. While I think PPP is overstating Romney’s edge here, I’m also confident enough in the overall historical trend to move Missouri into the “Likely Romney” column.
- North Carolina was polled by four firms five times in the past two weeks; one firm hit them twice. High Point/SurveyUSA ran a poll just before the conventions, and saw an unadjusted tie (which adjusts to a five-point lead for Romney). They ran another during the three days of the Republican National Convention, and found an additional three-point bump for Romney. Meanwhile Elon University/The Charlotte Observer ran one at the same time as SurveyUSA’s second poll, and saw a four-point Romney lead. Couple these with Public Policy Polling, who ran a poll in between the two conventions and came away with a tie (which adjusts to a three-point Romney lead), and North Carolina clearly “Leans Romney”. This is a shift from previous Reëlection Watches, which had tied the Tarheels to “Tossup”. I’ve been expecting to move it for a while, but sparse polling prevented it until now.
- Iowa finally saw another poll, just before the conventions, from Public Policy Polling. Their two-point unadjusted lead for Obama translates to basically a tie. No surprise there; Iowa has been tied between the two candidates for a long time, though primarily because of being polled infrequently, by few firms, and with a lot of noise in the data. Iowa is still at Tossup, and may well be so right up to the election.
- Florida is getting polled pretty heavily these days. Most recently, CNN/Time polled just before the Republican National Convention, and saw a four-point lead for Obama. Between the two conventions, Public Policy Polling and Gravis Marketing polled the state. PPP saw an unadjusted one-point Obama lead (adjusting to two in Romney’s favor), while Gravis saw a point for Romney. Those numbers indicate the expected convention bump. Based on historical trends, after both conventions’ bumps dissipate, we’ll be pretty much where we started, with the noise so overwhelming the signal that the tiny edge Obama has over the long haul is barely discernible. Florida remains a “Tossup”. Still. One thing to keep in mind is that the number of undecideds has been falling steadily in Florida. The battle for the middle is all but done here.
- Colorado was polled twice in the past two weeks. Public Policy Polling’s pre-convention poll saw Obama with a three-point unadjusted lead (which adjusts to a tie), while the Democratic Party-funded Keating poll, conducted between the two conventions, saw a four-point lead for the incumbent. Real Clear Politics averages the trend into a 2.3-point Obama lead, but I’m not convinced, since there are too many left-leaning pollsters in their current mix in Colorado. I think Obama has a small edge, but not as big as RCP thinks, at least for the period before the Democratic National Convention. Colorado remains on the blue side of the middle, but within the newly-narrowed Tossup range.
- Virginia was polled only once since last time, by Rasmussen, who saw an unadjusted tie, which adjusts to a one-point lead for Obama. The poll was conducted before either convention, so it has only the Ryan Bump in it. Virginia is still on the blue side of a Tossup, and I don’t expect any additional red tint between now and our next installment.
- Nevada got polled by Public Policy Polling, whose pre-convention poll indicated a three-point unadjusted (one point adjusted) lead for Obama. With the Ryan Bump included in that poll, and the typical reversion to the mean that follows a Vice Presidential Announcement Bump, I don’t see any reason to move Nevada from its current “Leans Obama” designation.
- Ohio got polled twice in the last two weeks. The Columbus Dispatch’s pre-convention “likely voter” poll showed a tie, while Gravis Marketing’s “registered voter” poll between the two conventions gave Romney the edge by three (which should translate to about five or six points in Romneys favor in a “likely voter” model). Unfortunately, we don’t have enough data to discern any house bias from these two, and Ohio’s polling has long been noisy. If the polls had come from agencies with a bigger track record, they’d carry more weight in our model, and probably push Ohio back into the “Tossup” column. But they don’t, and so our model is keeping Ohio in “Leans Obama”. That could change in the next round, but that depends on how the convention bumps smooth out in the next two weeks.
- New Hampshire wasn’t polled in the past two weeks, either. Tellingly, though, the Romney campaign is keeping their advertising campaign intact here. For this reason, I moved New Hampshire from below Wisconsin on this list, to now above Michigan. But we still have no new polling data, so there’s no reason to move New Hampshire out of the “Leans Obama” column.
- Michigan had two new polls in the past two weeks. I told you last time that the Baydoun/Foster poll was an obvious outlier, and that was corroborated by the new data. EPIC-MRA’s poll, conducted during the first “real” day of the Republican National Convention, saw a three-point lead for Obama, while Public Policy Polling saw Obama up by seven unadjusted (four adjusted) points in the days between the two conventions. By themselves, these two polls wouldn’t give us much to go on. But the broader trend is unmistakeable. It appears that the Romney campaign staffers see the same thing; they pulled all advertising from Michigan late this week. Michigan is still a “Leans Obama” state, but I expect it to move to “Likely Obama” in the next installment.
- Wisconsin hasn’t been polled in the last two weeks, to my surprise. But, like in Michigan, Romney’s campaign has elected not to include Wisconsin in the latest round of advertising. Wisconsin remains in the “Leans Obama” column, but I suspect the next round of polls will push it into “Likely Obama”.
- Pennsylvania also hasn’t been polled in the past two weeks, again to my surprise. And, like Wisconsin, Romney has chosen not to run his latest round of advertising here. Also like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania remains in “Leans Obama”, but only because we’re waiting for another round of polls.
In the past two weeks, fewer states of interest were polled than in the two prior weeks. North Carolina and Missouri have both shifted one column to the right. No states changed sides or moved into the “Tossup” group. Obama still ends up with a likely 275 electoral votes, based on my projection. That’s now eight consecutive weeks where Obama could lose all tossups and still stay in the White House.
Romney’s Ryan Bump seems to have peaked and fallen. It’s too early to tell if there’s any sticky bump from either convention. Until we see something looking like a stick on the Republican side, and a slide on the Democratic, the Electoral College remains in Obama’s court.
If I had to predict an Electoral College result, I’d keep things exactly where they have been for the past eight weeks. Romney would win Florida, and Obama would win the other tossups. I don’t see enough structural advantage for Romney in those to give him the edge that he’d have in Florida. That prediction would give Obama 303, and Romney 235. In that scenario, Obama would be 62 votes shy of his 2008 tally.
How do you feel about these predictions? Do you differ on them? If so, how, where, and why?
- Obama Approval Rating Jumps 10 Points After Democratic Convention (politicususa.com)
- Obama’s Odds of Reëlection Increase After Romney’s Acceptance Speech (politicususa.com)
- Democrats launch Obama on rocky road to reëlection (newsinfo.inquirer.net)
- Hill Poll: Voters say second term undeserved, country is worse off (thehill.com)
- Of bounces, bumps, polls and dead cats (wellthisiswhatithink.wordpress.com)