Sunday, July 22, 2012

State of the Race: Stable

A few months ago I made the case that the electorate is not as volatile as we are often led to believe in national elections. Today, Larry Sabato makes the same argument.
Three months of close-to-zero movement in the presidential race calls into question our obsession with horse race political coverage. Neither millions of dollars in television advertising nor three weak monthly job reports in a row have moved the needle very much; the supposed gaffes that dominate the daily news cycle have even less effect.
The truth is, the majority of people have already made up their minds.
While it is fashionable for voters to call themselves “independent” - both in how they respond to surveys or in their voter registration - polling data tell us that most people who claim to be independent really are not...Political science research suggests that the real proportion of independents in the November electorate will be even smaller, perhaps 5% to7%.
I would go one step further and suggest that the 5-7% are the ones who won't be paying attention until this fall.

And so as the media world obsesses over the ads and the jobs reports and the gaffes, the needle doesn't really move one way or the other. President Obama still has a small lead in the national vote (2-3%) and a commanding lead in the electoral college. Its true that this week his lead in Virginia seemed to narrow. But at the same time, its looking more possible that he might win Florida - which would pretty much put the race out of reach for Romney.

Some have suggested that the stability of the race shows that the Obama campaign's charges against Romney's finances and history at Bain have "not worked." That, of course, assumes they were designed to win voters over to President Obama. As I've said before, I think they were more designed to ensure that the race is cast as being a choice rather than a referendum. And in that sense, they were meant to keep Romney from gaining ground  by blaming President Obama for the weak economy. Their success is demonstrated by the fact that the President has maintained his lead despite the lackluster jobs reports.

Prepare yourselves for the one time we will see a bit of volatility - Romney will gain some in the polls following the Republican convention. But then it will be our turn at the Democratic convention followed by Romney finally having to face the President mano-a-mano in the debates. That presents another rock/hard place for Romney...will he continue his lies about the President or risk looking "weak" to his base? We'll see.

The final step in all of this is the one that's up to us - turnout. Here's Sabato on that.
... the key question this November will be less the destination of the hard-core independents than the relative enthusiasm of Democrats versus Republicans. One side will run up the score in Election Day turnout...
Its all about the ground game, baby!

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