This presidential election was destined to be close. It will be. We have an incumbent with shaky approval ratings, though not terrible as in 1980 or 1992, and a nervous electorate. The economy is not currently in recession, but is experiencing one of the weakest post-recession recoveries since WWII. And President Obama’s foreign policy is showing signs of completely unraveling.
But practically everyone in the political world – especially political journalists, even many of those on the right – is saying Mitt Romney will lose.
So, in that environment, he will.
In a close presidential election – as in 1976, 2000, and 2004 – voter turnout is key. Earlier this year the Republicans had an advantage in voter enthusiasm, as the weak economy and Obama Care convinced many Republicans that this was their year. And the Democratic base was depressed, for many of the same reasons.
Now the reverse is true – Republicans are depressed and Democrats are energized. The main reason for this turnaround in the last few weeks is the polls. If you average the national polls, President Obama’s lead is not huge, it averages around 3.5 points currently. But the dominant interpretation of that lead by the major media and by political pundits is that the election is basically over.
Republicans complain abut the methodology of most of the polling organizations – they say most pollsters are using voter turnout models that mirror turnout in 2008, which would give President Obama an edge in the polling sample before any survey questions are even asked. The GOP prefers Rasmussen’s polls, which use a turnout model that averages the turnout from 2008 and 2004. In those surveys, the race is either even or has the President ahead by one point.
And yet, Nate Silver, a political stats guru who writes for the New York Times, points out that some of the surveys that have the President ahead by larger margins have cell phone numbers included in their samples, which he argues makes them more credible. Silver rates the race a 3 to 1 likelihood the President is reelected.
The net effect of all of this is that the Republicans’ enthusiasm edge over the Democrats is wiped out. The “storyline” of the national media the last two weeks that the election is over could turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy – helping to dampen turnout among Republicans, and convincing the few undecided voters out there that Romney just can’t win.
Republicans, of course, accuse the media of hyping the “election is over” story because they are all Democrats and want to help reelect Obama. Undoubtedly, some of them are. But Republicans, such as Peggy Noonan, who writes a popular column for the Wall Street Journal, and Irving Kristol’s kid over at the conservative Weekly Standard, also seem to have jumped on the “Romney is dead” bandwagon.
Romney is clearly behind, though by how much is open to debate. But it’s still September. There are three presidential debates still to come. There are millions of dollars of TV advertising yet to hit. Romney may well lose – if nothing changes over the next few weeks he certainly will. But he is within striking distance, unlike McCain in 2008 or Bob Dole in 1996.
But if Republicans in Ohio, Virginia, and Florida are too depressed to get out of bed and go vote on November 6 then it will turn out that the opportunity was wasted. What will Peggy Noonan and Irving Kristol’s kid say then?