Saturday, October 27, 2012

Could We Be Headed for 2000 All Over Again?

As I watch the new polls roll in each day, I'm noticing an increased stability in the race.  If I could distill down what is going on to a few major events in this year's campaign, it would be as such:
(1) Out of the Primaries - Solid Obama Lead
Coming out of the Republican nominating contests, once Mitt Romney secured the GOP nomination, he trailed President Obama nationally by a little over 3%.  Our map from back in June showed the President at 3.2% with a solid electoral college lead of 332-206.  Basically, the President was leading in almost everything that was expected to be a swing state - he led modestly in Florida, Virginia and New Hampshire and trailed only modestly in North Carolina.  It basically looked like Mitt Romney was going to have to run the table everywhere to win and even that might not get him to victory.

(2) Paul Ryan is Selected
While little has been written about it in the mainstream media of late (the media has since moved on to the next narrative), the selection of Paul Ryan as Romney's running mate re-energized the GOP ticket and tightened the race.  By late August, our map showed Obama leading by a mere 1.1% and his electoral advantage tightened to 294-244.  Romney had picked up Florida and Colorado and was within striking distance in Virginia and closing in Ohio and Wisconsin.

(3) Bill Clinton Stomps Clint Eastwood
Do you remember the most memorable moments from the RNC?  Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair.  The most memorable moment from the DNC?  Bill Clinton picking apart the GOP platform with a skill that only the master has.  The poll results showed a big bounce for President Obama coming out of the two conventions with the President's national lead at +5.0% in early September and an electoral lead of 332-206, identical to his lead back in June.

(4) Romney Owns Obama in Debate #1
If Mitt Romney finds a way to win this election, the President's team will have a single event to look back on in the post-mortem, the way he got utterly devastated in the first presidential debate.  100 million people watched a disinterested, disengaged President get obliterated by an energized, suddenly more moderate Mitt Romney.  The polls quickly reflected this reality.  By early October, Mitt Romney was up 1.2% in national polling and had closed the electoral gap to 281-257, having retaken the lead in all of the solid south as well as Colorado.

And that is pretty much where we have stayed.  The second and third debates failed to move the needle in either direction as did the VP debate.  Mitt Romney continues to sport a modest lead in national polling (a somewhat larger lead in Gallup and Rasmussen, trailing in the Investor's Business Daily Poll and the Ipsos/Reuters poll, but leading modestly in aggregate) and trailing slightly in the electoral college. 

Of the 7 events that I said could change the race (Romney's VP selection, the two conventions and the four debates), it is clear that 3 did (Romney's VP Selection, the DNC and the first debate) and four had a less measurable impact, if any.

There are no major scheduled events left between now and the election in 10 days.  The race has more or less been stable since early October.  It would seem we are where we are unless an October (or November) surprise breaks in the next week and a half.

But this does remind me of another race where there was discussion of a Republican candidate leading in the national polls but a Democrat potentially winning the electoral college - 2000.

Going into the election, many believed that split result was the most likely outcome based on the polling data.  Of course, the reverse wound up happening, very narrowly.

Now I wasn't in the prognostication business back then and I like to think we've learned something about polling and analysis in the intervening 12 years.  But is it close enough that another Year 2000 surprise could be in the offing?  It certainly isn't impossible.

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