This has been a gut wrenching cycle. I've followed presidential elections since I was old enough to understand what they were and this one has been painful squared. It was made all the more agonizing because its clear now that in order to win Republicans have to overcome a sizable handicap. Any mistake made by a Republican leads the broadcast networks evening news, while the vast majority of mistakes by a Democrat are either begrudgingly covered or ignored completely.
That is a tough hill to climb because so many of our fellow citizens are too lazy to be informed and thus believe what they see and hear through popular culture.
Yesterday I sat in an antique mall eavesdropping on three women as they discussed the election. They were white, likely in their 60's, and clearly upper-middleclass. What seemed to animate their conversation was how shocked they are that women's rights are coming under attack after all these years and how "fundamentalism" is on the rise.
Several days ago a friend of mine in his late 60's confided that he is worried about voting for Romney because my friend is on Social Security and Romney wants to replace it with vouchers.
Clearly none of these folks has a clue and are highly unlikely to get one. Of course there are also those people who will vote for Romney because Obama was born in Kenya or because his real father shot JFK, so perhaps ignorance cancels itself out when all is said and done.
What has made this election so hard to grasp is that the polling has been odd to put it mildly. Anyone who tells you either candidate is a lock to win because of what the polls say is jerking your chain.
First off let me talk about the RCP Average (RCPA). In past years it has been solid. This year its been questionable. This is not really entirely the fault of RCP. This cycle has seen an explosion in the number of polls including several new daily tracking polls. In the past it was fairly easy for RCP to kept the average updated. Now it has become a mess.
For instance, as of this morning RCP still has Gallup included even though they stopped polling due to Hurricane Sandy. Gallup's last numbers are one to two weeks old (it was a seven day tracking poll) or essentially meaningless.
There are no less than six polls in the current RCPA that are five to fourteen days old. How RCP chooses to remove these polls could have a potentially huge effect on the RCPA.
Drop the National Journal Poll that has Obama up five points and suddenly Mitt Romney makes a BIG COMEBACK! Likewise drop the Gallup numbers and Obama surges to a BIG LEAD!
My point is that the RCPA has become much more art and much less science this cycle because whoever decides which polls to include and for how long, has to make subjective decisions. It may turn out to be absolutely accurate, but if it is its because the person who builds the average has great insight (or gets lucky) not because a computer spit out an entirely objective number.
My second point is that the polling is all over the board and has been for several weeks. Gallup had Romney up 5% and Rasmussen had Romney up 4% when other polls had Obama up 3% and 4%. Romney enjoyed a couple of weeks of being ahead in the RCPA but so what? As pointed out above the RCPA has a MOE of its own superimposed over the MOE each poll has and both the RCPA and each poll have subjective methodology that adds another layer of uncertainty.
At present the RCPA has Obama at 47.8 and Romney at 47.4. That Obama is "ahead" is meaningless. Four-tenths of one percent is the same as being tied and in fact that is what the RCPA has shown for weeks now. I don't think either Romney or Obama have had more than a 1% lead over the last three weeks. So again, the RCPA is worthless in terms of who is going to win but it is one of many indications that this election will be very close.
With that lengthy preamble here are my thoughts on this race.
Why Obama May Win
1. Incumbent presidents are hard to beat in our modern age. Its happened just four times in the last 100 years. Hoover and Carter need no explanation. George H. W. Bush and William Howard Taft faced strong third party challenges.
2. The state level polling shows Obama ahead where he needs to be ahead.
3. In two of the vital states, Ohio and Virginia, the economy is healthier than the nation as a whole.
4. Obama has momentum, improving his polling over the past week.
Why Romney May Win
1. The race is tied in the national polls one day before election day. Undecideds will break for the challenger and provide the winning margin.
2. The state polls can't be all right unless the national polls are all wrong. Given that Obama will run up massive margins in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Maryland etc, there is no way all of Ohio, Virginia, Florida, North Carolina, and Georgia can be as close as the state polls show. Except for Texas (which I can't find polling on) and Georgia, all the big "red" states are very close, (Florida, Virginia, N.C. Ohio). So unless all the national polling is way off in Romney's favor, a substantial amount of the state polling is way off in Obama's favor.
3. Against a weak John McCain, Barack Obama won a solid but not overwhelming popular vote. After four years of middling to disastrous policies, Obama will be hard pressed to match his result of 2008. It is almost unheard of (has it ever happened?) for a president to win re-election with fewer votes than he won to begin with (FDR's 3rd and 4th terms don't count) .
4. Republicans have an enthusiasm advantage and generally vote at a higher rate than Democrats. Have you seen the crowds Romney is drawing compared to Obama?
My Not So Fearless Prediction
I'm going to break my prediction into three parts so I have more chances to be right.
I have just five swing states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Swinging those states would mean Romney getting between 257 and 315 Electoral Votes.
My prediction is that he will get between 261 and 281.
If I have to bet the farm on an exact number it would be
Romney 277 Obama 261
Romney 50.2 % Obama 49.1 %
May God Bless America.