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Where is the Presidential Race Right Now?
As I wrote a couple of days ago, Romney’s momentum is gone. His peak for support, in terms of polling, was on or around October 12th. Since that time, President Obama has continued to build his advantage in the polls, especially in the state-wide polling data, and especially in key swing states like Iowa and Ohio. Nate Silver’s 538 Blog is the best model. Instead of picking a winner, Silver gives probabilities for winning the election. As of today, Silver gives Obama an 81% chance of winning, Romney 19%. In the major polls released or updated yesterday, not a single one gave Romney the advantage in Ohio. Only one poll gave him an advantage in either Virginia or Iowa. Florida is the only good news for camp Romney where it looks as though Obama is trailing.
When the polls spit out the same numbers day after day, polling agency upon polling agency, it’s time to stop thinking about margin of error. Obama has what Silver dubbed an electoral college “firewall,” Romney hasn’t been able to crack. Obama is running 2-3 points ahead of his national average in state polling. Ohio, in particular, has not changed in the past few days as the wide cross-section of polls are begin to resemble one another more closely.
So, minds are made up. The election is no longer about convincing people, it’s about getting out the vote. Here it is strength against strength.
- Romney’s strength: is that conservatives hate Obama more than they hate anyone or anything. They are motivated to vote. It’s one of the peculiar elements of this presidential election that make this race different from any in my lifetime. Somewhere around 15-25% of the country thinks that President Obama is the personification of pure evil. The vitriolic hatred with which the far right has attacked the president is so powerful that Romney has been able to take their support for granted, and since the first debate he has run as a moderate.
- Obama’s strength: is his grass-roots voter turn-out machine. It’s unparalleled by the Romney camp, especially in certain key swing states (Nevada in particular, but also Ohio and Virginia).
Why Is Obama Leading?
Surprisingly, some of the most articulate arguments in favor of retaining the president for another four years have come from conservative Republicans. In particular David Frum and David Brooks – both conservative writers – have summed Obama’s first term this way:
“When President Obama took office in January 2009 the US was plunging downward into the worst recession since World War II. By summer 2009, the US had begun a weak but real recovery, which at last seems to be accelerating into an expansion that more and more Americans can feel. President Obama gave the order that killed Osama bin Laden. He ended the war in Iraq on acceptable terms. He is enforcing tightening sanctions against Iran, inspiring hopes of a peaceful end to that country’s nuclear program. Meanwhile, his opponents in Congress have behaved about as badly and irresponsibly as any opposition group since the congressional Democrats of the mid-1970s forced the defeat of South Vietnam. And as for conservatives in the country – well, I’ve posted my thoughts elsewhere on that particular plunge into paranoia and extremism.” – David Frum on his blog.
“…President Obama has lived up to the promise of that day [his inauguration]. In office, he has generally behaved with integrity and in a way befitting a man with his admirable character. Sure, he has sometimes stooped to the cynical maneuver. Contemptuous of his opponents, he has given himself permission to do the nasty and negative thing. But politics is a rough business and nobody comes out unsullied. In moral terms, he hasn’t let us down. If he’s re-elected, his administration would probably remain scandal-free. Given the history of second terms, that is no small thing. Moreover, Obama has been a prudent leader. He’s made no rash or disastrous decisions. He’s never acted out of some impetuous passion. His policies toward, say, China, Europe and Iranhave had a sense of sober balance. If re-elected, he would probably commit no major blunders, which also is no small thing.” – David Brooks in the New York Times
Why is Obama leading? At least part of the explanation has to include the fact that the economy is making progress and people think he should get some credit for it. Romney staked his campaign on the idea that he could pin the slow economic recovery on Obama, but as Frum and Brooks both argue, apart from those who don’t consider the president to be the personification of pure evil, most actually think that Obama has been faithful steward of the economy and should be kept at the helm.
Why is Romney Tailing Off?
Both Frum and Brooks follow the above assessments of Obama’s first term with the reasons why they are supporting Romney in this election. Their rationale is essentially this: Republicans in congress are so entrenched and unwilling to compromise that they will never allow any progress with a Democrat in the White House. If Obama wins Republicans will continue to thwart everything the Obama administration tries to get done. Brooks says that Republicans in congress are so scared of the right wing of their own party that they’ll never work out compromises with the president for fear of a Tea Party challenge in the next primary. Brooks says it this way:
“The bottom line is this: If Obama wins, we’ll probably get small-bore stasis; if Romney wins, we’re more likely to get bipartisan reform. Romney is more of a flexible flip-flopper than Obama. He has more influence over the most intransigent element in the Washingtonequation: House Republicans. He’s more likely to get big stuff done.” – David Brooks, Dallas Morning News
Why is Romney tailing off? Because his widest appeal is that he will more effectively cater to the childish antics of the right wing of the Republican party. Romney will be the mom who bribes her children with candy in order to get them to behave. It’s not a bad strategy, to tell the truth, but so far not a winning one for Romney.