Conventional wisdom has it that whichever Presidential candidate wins two out of three of Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania is really likely to win the election. In fact, the last candidate to win the Presidency without winning FLOHPA was named John F. Kennedy.
This is not good news for Mitt Romney. The numbers will vary a little from day to day, but as I write this, Nate Silver is predicting all three states for President Obama, with likelihoods of 97% in Pennsylvania, 83% in Ohio, and 68% in Florida. Those aren’t close. If Obama wins every state where Silver gives him an 80% chance, he wins. If he wins every state Silver says he’s got better than a 2/3 chance, he gets 329 electoral votes. He’s closer to winning North Carolina (39%) than to losing Florida (68%), his weakest current win.
But the news gets worse for the challenger: there are remarkably few undecided voters. This isn’t to say that it’s impossible for Governor Romney to make a comeback, but he needs help. Even a series of excellent debate performances is unlikely to be enough. Obama needs to do something stupid, either in the debates or in his job, per se. And Romney needs to avoid the foot-in-mouth performances of recent weeks. Good luck with that, Mitt.
Here’s the thing: Huffington Post’s analysis of a host of polling data gives Obama over 50% in Pennsylvania. That means that a fair number of people who have already made up their minds will have to actually change their minds if Romney is to win the state. In Ohio, it’s currently 49-43; Florida is 49-45. That means that if no one currently intending to vote for the incumbent actually switches sides, Pennsylvania is off the table, and Romney would need to win 88% of the undecideds to take Ohio, and 83% to win Florida. The chances of that happening: well, certainly extant, but not great. The Quinnipiac/New York Times/CBS News poll (shown above): well, it’s all over but the shouting.
Of course, it is possible to lose two out of three of the trio of battleground states with the most electoral votes and still pull out the election. If President Obama were to win only those states HuffPo describes as “Strong Obama,” he’d win Pennsylvania and Ohio and lose the election, with 265 electoral votes. By HuffPo’s calculus, there are seven states that will decide the election: if Obama wins New Hampshire, he’s guaranteed at least a tie; if he wins any of the others—Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina, Virginia—with or without New Hampshire, he wins a second term. Of these, Obama currently leads in all but North Carolina… actually, he leads there, too, but by a miniscule margin well within the margin of error. Obama is currently running at 49% in five of the swing states, 48% in one, and 47% in the other. Romney has a 47, five 45s, and a 44.
Talking Points Memo tells an equally if not more grim story for the challenger, with Obama currently at 49.9% in Pennsylvania and 49.8% in the other two FLOHPA states. Romney needs over 99% of undecideds in the Keystone State, 97% in Ohio, and 96% of Floridians. That’s a Herculean task for a candidate who isn’t exactly playing the game flawlessly.
True, there’s the Rasmussen poll, the most right-leaning survey that anyone takes even a little seriously. But even that gives Obama 237 “safe” electoral votes to 181 for Romney, with 15 votes leaning towards Romney and 105 toss-ups. 76 of the 105 show Obama with a lead. In other words, if the Rasmussen poll were precisely accurate (and it has traditionally over-estimated Republicans), Obama would cruise to a comfortable 313-225 victory.
It’s no wonder the Romney team is clinging to fictions about polling samples and such. According to this silliness, Romney in fact has a comfortable lead. Look, Rasmussen (!) has it 313-225 for Obama, albeit with some of that margin a little uncertain. The Fox News (!) poll has Obama/Biden with a 5-point lead nationally. I can’t find a state-by-state analysis from them, but their overall polling fits right in with everyone else’s, all of which show Obama with a small-to-moderate, not insurmountable, lead. The NBC/Wall Street Journal (!) poll gives the President a five-point lead among registered voters and a six-point lead among likely voters. Everyone… well, virtually everyone, agrees.
If you need a dentist or a plumber or a mechanic, you go to a professional. We can argue about which one is best, but when every single one of them tells you that you need a root canal or a new toilet or a carburetor, I really don’t care what your friend Bob down the street says, especially if he’s a restaurant manager or a football coach or an insurance salesman. Things could change in this election; they have in the past. John Kerry made a late run, for example, although it turned out to be not quite enough. But to say that Romney is currently ahead by 6-10 points is lunacy. Period.
This whole affair does fit remarkably well with recent trends in Republican thinking, however. They don’t trust economists about the economy, scientists about science, teachers about teaching. And whereas the Pentagon has certainly earned our distrust over the years, there are those Congressional buffoons (cough… cough… Paul Ryan… cough) who accuse the military brass of lying when they say they need less money down the road. So it’s no wonder they don’t trust professional pollsters, either. Many things that used to be true have been turned on their head in the last half-generation of politics; foremost among them: Republican recognition of the notion that experts know whereof they speak. But global climate change really exists, teaching to the test doesn’t really educate our children, and waterboarding really is a war crime… and it doesn’t matter what the preachers and the political hacks have to say about it.
Still, it’s a minority of the GOP that gives this particular silliness any credibility. Even the chronically if not acutely moronic Erick Erickson gets this one right. Sure, he’s skeptical that his guy is as far behind as the polls say he is, and it’s easier to rally the troops for a close race than for one in which your candidate is getting crushed. But his commentary leaves no doubt that whereas he may be guilty of a little wishful thinking, he’s not in the tin-foil hat brigade on this one:
I do not believe the polls are all wrong. I do not believe there is some intentional, orchestrated campaign to suppress the GOP vote by showing Mitt Romney losing. I actually believe that Mitt Romney trails Barack Obama. I think Republicans putting their hopes in the polls all being wrong is foolish.
I do understand Republicans’ frustration. After all, Obama ought to be eminently beatable, and the GOP chose the most electable of their bevy of second-teamers… well, not counting Jon Huntsman, who is actually a grown-up, but who, predictably, was gone by February. Of course, we’ve been here before, in the other direction. George W. Bush’s first term was even worse than Obama’s, but the Dems chose the “electable” John Kerry, a stinking rich Massachusetts pol who, unlike his primary opposition, didn’t have much in the way of core values. And they lost. Perhaps, Gentle Reader, you might notice something interesting about that description.
We’re left with two major points. 1). This race has shifted, largely because of Mitt Romney’s ineptness, from being about the incumbent’s record to being about what an utter disaster the challenger is. That’s good news for Mr. Obama. 2). It isn’t over. That’s good news—the only good news—for Mr. Romney. I unabashedly steal the closing reference from a piece by Jason Linkins and Elyse Siegel on the Huffington Post: for the Romney campaign, to quote Bob Dylan, “It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.”