It's time to start making final predictions for the 2012 election. I'm also rounding up predictions from others who are out on the limb with me predicting a Romney victory. I still feel fairly confident about my bottom line: Romney will win. But until we see the actual voter turnout, it's hard to project more than educated guesswork as to the size of that win.
The Electorate and the Popular Vote
The final week of polling has been even more of a mess than usual in a season in which the polls have made less and less sense both internally (their assumptions about turnout and the conflict between the toplines and Romney's margins with independents) and externally (how the polls' views of turnout conflict with every other item of evidence outside the polling). Josh Jordan notes the particularly unstable polling of independents in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
But while some of the more garish double-digit margins are gone, the latest battery of national polls shows Romney's standing vs Obama with independents most likely somewhere around a 7 point lead: CNN/ORC (+22, but with the smallest of sample sizes), Monmouth/SUSA (+16), Rasmussen (+9), WaPo/ABC (+7), NBC/WSJ (+7), Pew (+4), Gallup (-1).
What will turnout look like? First up, we have Rasmussen's October 2012 Party ID survey; I've revised my chart to look at the historical track record since 2004 of his October survey:
That's an R+6 electorate. Obama is clearly, in my view, doomed if the electorate is D+3 (the historical average for presidential elections since 1984) or less, and probably needs about D+6, maybe D+5 (the 2000 electorate) to win. We haven't had an R+ electorate for a presidential election since probably the 1920s (2004 was even); we may not have had an R+6 electorate since Reconstruction ended. If Rasmussen's survey is even half right, Democrats could be in for a very, very rough night across the board. Even as accurate as Rasmussen has been, I'm hesitant to go out all the way on that limb - but it's hard to argue with his record on this front. The survey encompasses a huge sample, on the order of 15,000 interviews.
It may be tough to measure the final electorate, because exit polls won't capture early voters, and in some states that's a lot of people. (The Denver Post cites Colorado Secretary of State figures showing more than 62% of the state's registered voters have voted already, with a turnout of R+2). My prediction for the national turnout is a conservative one: D+2, D 37/R 35/I 28. Assuming Romney wins Republicans 94-6, Obama carries Democrats 93-7, and Romney wins independents 53-47 - again, a conservative projection given the polls - that gives us Romney 50.3%, Obama 49.7%.
(If you run those same assumptions in the electorate from Rasmussen's party ID survey, you get Romney 53.7%, Obama 46.2% - and it gets wider from there if the spread among independents gets into double digits. But I'm being conservative here, as I still expect the more likely outcome to be fairly close).
The Electoral College
I start with this map, with Romney up 235-190:
Obama is still running ads in North Carolina and still contesting Florida; Florida is usually close, but I see no real likelihood that it goes for Obama again.
Then, let's take off the board the states where Romney is only going to win if it's really breaking big for him - I'm actually now including Nevada and not Pennsylvania in that category, and to be cautious, Maine's 2d Congressional District - and the states I'd almost written off in September where I now think Romney is in very solid shape (Virginia, Colorado and New Hampshire):
Romney 261, Obama 223. Iowa becomes irrelevant at this point - Romney wins one of the remaining three, or Obama wins all three, and it's game over. But I don't actually see Pennsylvania being the one to get Romney over the line if he loses Ohio and Wisconsin. Playing it safe, I end up with Romney taking just one of those four - Wisconsin - and a narrow electoral college win, 271-267:
If Romney wins, as I project, I strongly suspect that he will win at least one of the other three, maybe all three. But Wisconsin is my pick for the state that puts him over the hump.
Here's RCP's current map of the Senate races, projecting each side picks up 3 seats, netting no change to the Democrats' 53-47 advantage:
That's a very disappointing outcome from where the GOP should have been, but probably not as bad as it has looked most of the past two months. I'm going to be absurdly bullish and say R+2 Senate seats because I can't look across Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Virginia, Massachusetts, Indiana, and Missouri and see the Democrats going better than 5-for-7. There are different reasons in different races - Mourdock and Akin will have strong GOP turnout advantages at their backs, Scott Brown is just a tough campaigner, and Smith, Mandel, Thompson and Allen all have the swing state ground games behind them. Add in Montana and it will take a big set of Romney coattails for the Republicans to win half or more of those eight races - but 3 out of 8 hardly seems unreasonable if the presidential race is going well.
(It's also impossible to be sure how the Maine Senate race will come out - three-way races are notoriously hard to poll - but I'll nonetheless be surprised if Angus King doesn't win and caucus with the Democrats. A 50 D/49 R Senate with Paul Ryan as the VP could put King in position to be a tremendous power broker.).
Like most people, I'm not even bothering with a House prediction, other than to reiterate a point Neil Stevens has made: if the electorate was really going to look like the D+7 Democratic wave of 2008, we'd be talking about a ton of Democratic House pickups (redistricting or no) and a threat of the return of Speaker Pelosi. But at this point, even the DCCC seems to have all but thrown in the towel; Nate Silver doesn't even seem to be tracking odds for a Democratic House pickup. That suggests that down-ticket Democrats are looking at a much more realistic universe.
Around The Horn
Michael Barone has Romney 315, Obama 223. I'm always in good company agreeing with Barone.