The president is in more trouble than Democratic-slanted polls let on.
Most polls tell us about the opinions of voters. A few tell us about the opinions of pollsters.
The most recent Investor’s Business Daily/TIPP poll, at least as of this writing, shows Barack Obama with a 45-44 lead over Mitt Romney. The internals of the poll show that the pollster favors Democrats, too. A full 38 percent of those included in the survey identified as Democrats, while just 31 percent identified as Republicans. Though the researchers may not have been deliberately aiming for such an overwhelming Democratic advantage, the demographic assumptions they made predetermined which party would enjoy favoritism. This seven-point differential matches the Democrat’s party-identification advantage for 2008, when African Americans turned out in record numbers and young people opted for the Democratic candidate over the Republican by a record margin. Historic elections by definition don’t happen every four years. Counting on maximum-level support, and among the groups traditionally among those least reliable when it comes to voting, seems wishful thinking. But the Investor’s Business Daily/TIPP count, like the Obama campaign itself, supposes another Democrat “perfect storm” in 2012.
The pro-Obama bias runs deeper within the various polls of contested battleground states. In 2008, Democrats constituted 29 percent of the New Hampshire electorate according to exit polls. The latest University of New Hampshire poll, which shows the president comfortably ahead by nine points in the state, assumes a 46 percent turnout among Democrats in the Granite State in 2012. In Florida, the CBS/New York Times/Quinnipiac poll, which claims a one-point advantage for Obama over Romney, assumes that the Democrat party-identification advantage will increase from 2008’s +3 to +7 in 2012. In Colorado, the partisan PPP poll depicts a 51-47 Obama advantage. The survey anticipates that Democratic voters in Colorado will rise from 30 percent of the electorate to 37 percent. These polls seem more geared toward influencing voter opinion than reflecting it.
But even the most slanted polls aren’t totally useless. The percentage of independents that they survey differs. The attitude of the independents they survey remains consistent. In poll after poll, independent voters support Mitt Romney over Barack Obama. The Republican leads Obama 51-39 among independents in both the National Public Radio and CBS/New York Times/Quinnipiac polls. In the Investor’s Business Daily/TIPP poll, Romney’s lead among independents is 46-38. No Democrat has won the presidency during the last half century without also winning independent voters. The irony of the bitter red-blue divide is that the few “purple” voters immune to the polarization increasingly decide elections.
If this race is about, as Obama’s leading campaign surrogate once believed, “the economy, stupid,” then the contest favors Romney. In the NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll, which featured a sampling bias in favor of the Democrats, respondents nevertheless favored Romney on the economy. When asked, “Who do you think is better prepared to create jobs and improve the economy over the next four years?” the polled chose Romney by 45-41. Other polls have also shown a Romney advantage on the question of the economy.
Ironically, the people pollsters have been polling are not the people most likely to show up at polling places. When CBS/New York Times/Quinnipiac most recently queried likely voters about their enthusiasm for their chosen candidate, 68 percent of Romney supporters said they were “very” enthusiastic to just 59 percent for Obama voters. In NPR’s poll, 76 percent of Republicans rated the election a “10” in terms of importance versus just 66 percent of Democrats. While the enthusiasm edge may seem marginal, so is the percentage differential between the candidates in most national polls.
So what catalyzed independents to abandon the president and catalyzed Republicans to so enthusiastically oppose him?
A political obituary, should the president lose on Tuesday, might note that he couldn’t run the country like he could run for president. He mistook the gas for the brake pedal when voters rebuked him first in Massachusetts and then nationwide in 2010. He promised change and delivered more of the same.
A candidate running on change always risks disappointment catching up to him.
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