It’s all a matter of perspective.
All along most of my fellow conservative pundits have been framing the 2012 election as a replay of 1980, with a former Republican governor earning a landslide mandate from an American people languishing under the failures of an unprepared liberal incumbent. While my ideology may put the fun in fundamentalist, all along I have disagreed with that narrative.
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While Obama’s amateurish escapades may resemble Carter’s futility, Romney is not another Reagan. In fact, until the first debate in Denver when he routed Obama, Romney was on pace to be the most disliked major party challenger for president in the history of modern polling.
In addition, an entire generation that still believed in rugged individualism and Judeo-Christian morality has left us since Reagan’s era. They have been replaced by a generation far more conditioned to see government as the solution to our problems rather than an impediment to them.
For example, my home state of Iowa is a socially conservative state but since Reagan it’s only gone Republican in a presidential election once, and that was by fewer than 10,000 votes. Why? Because my home state is one of the oldest in the country (which means lots of folks on entitlement programs), and its biggest industry is agriculture (which is essentially a complete subsidy of the welfare state). Thus, Iowa has been voting Democrat out of personal financial vested interest for decades.
Furthermore, the nation is far more Balkanized culturally than it was in 1980. A Republican presidential candidate – let alone a conservative – could still win California. Now the Electoral College is essentially down to just a handful of states every four years, with most of the country entrenched as red or blue no matter whom the nominee of each party is or where the country is at. That makes obtaining the kind of national mandate Reagan twice received more difficult. Nowadays a Democrat has 200 Electoral College votes in the bank just by showing up on the ballot come Election Day, and that wasn’t true in Reagan’s time.
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Because of this, since January I have been analyzing this election with 2004 as its predecessor for three reasons:
1. Obama’s approval ratings are roughly where Bush’s were then. Though the Obama economy is worse than Bush’s (and not as bad as Carter’s), Bush was also saddled with an unpopular war in Iraq that makes that a wash.
2. As a challenger Romney was saddled with many of the same negatives as Kerry. He didn’t excite his base, which is why Kerry and Romney each set the record for earliest to name a running mate, and each selected a younger more charismatic vice presidential nominee. Also the attempt by Obama to make the election a referendum on Romney instead of himself, by characterizing Romney as a wealthy socialite elitist out-of-touch with mainstream values, is exactly what Karl Rove successfully did to Kerry for Bush in 2004. And do you remember the flip-flops on display at the 2004 Republican Convention to remind voters of Kerry’s penchant for taking each side of each issue? Apparently there’s something in the water in Massachusetts because that has been a problem for Romney as well. Romney’s own campaign confidant perpetuated the label with his infamous “etch-a-sketch” remarks.
3. The framework of the Electoral College is virtually the same as it was in 2004, except for GOP states Indiana and North Carolina that were surprise pick-ups for Obama in 2008.
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The metric of this race, with Obama getting a big post-convention bounce just like Bush did, Romney then getting a big post-debate bounce just like Kerry did, and the election essentially coming down to Ohio, is eerily similar to 2004 as well.
For the purpose of my analysis, I’m going to rely on the Real Clear Politics polling average for my polling information because it’s been proven to be the most accurate tool for public consumption out there. The final RCP polling average flat out nailed the last two presidential elections (and I urge you to go back and read this link to find out why it did so).
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That doesn’t mean RCP is right this time. In fact, we won’t know who is right until after the people (or the lawyers) have their ultimate say. But in the past two election cycles no one has been more accurate than RCP.
The day before the election the RCP average has Obama ahead by 0.5%, which means the race is essentially tied. However, the RCP average gives Obama the edge in 8 of its 10 toss-up states. In addition, there were 21 polls of various battleground states released on Saturday, and 16 of them had Obama ahead. Only two put Romney ahead, and the rest were tied. In fact, despite all the criticism from we conservatives of biased polling (and yes there is plenty), if you apply the methodology RCP uses to create its polling average to presidential elections state-by-state since 1988, you’ll find they have correctly predicted the winner 96% of the time.
That is incredible accuracy.
For example, look at the NBC News poll we conservatives routinely mock. In 2008 the final NBC News poll predicted Obama to win by 8 points, and he won by 7.3. In 2004, the final NBC News poll predicted Bush to win by 1 point, and he won by 1.5. This year, the final NBC News poll predicted Obama to win by 1 point as well.
Which name polls have been the most inaccurate the past two cycles? In 2004, Newsweek predicted Bush to win by 6 points, and Fox News predicted Kerry to win by 2 points. In 2008 Gallup and Reuters each predicted Obama to win by 11 points.
But are the polls always right? Well, 96% is pretty darned close, but when they’re wrong they’re really wrong.
The two most glaring examples are the exit polling fiasco in the 2000 election that led to an overhaul of that system, and – get this – 1980. That year all the pre-election polls undervalued Reagan’s actual support, and some did so substantially. For instance, an October 26th CBS/New York Times poll gave Reagan just 39% support, as did an October 29th Washington Post poll. But on November 4th Reagan got 51% of the vote and won by 10 points (third party candidate John Anderson got 7%).
Polling has come a long way since then, and state-by-state polling wasn’t even being done en masse back then. Still, given the documented ideological bias in the mainstream media slanted towards Democrats (Benghazi anyone…anyone…no, really, anyone?), it is worth remembering.
Speaking of state-by-state polls, how accurate has the Real Clear Politics average been with those the past two elections? In 2008 RCP considered 21 states battleground states, and the RCP average correctly predicted the winner in all 21 of them. Granted, that was a blowout for Obama which makes it easier, but what about in the much closer 2004 election? In 2004 RCP considered 18 states battleground states, and correctly predicted the winner in 16 of them. In other words, in the past two presidential elections the RCP average has correctly predicted the winner in 95% of the battleground states.
Misconceptions & Urban Myths
Misconception & Urban Myth #1: Incumbents below 50% always lose
While you’d rather not be an incumbent below 50% in the polls, there just isn’t as much truth to this as people think. Again, comparing this election to 2004, the final RCP average had Bush below 50% in all but 4 of its 18 battleground states. But Bush ended up winning 6 other battleground states where he was polling less than 50%, and that included the decisive battleground states of Florida and Ohio.
Misconception & Urban Myth #2: Independents always break late for the challenger
Actually, late deciders ended up breaking late for Vice President Gore in 2000, which was one of the problems with the exit polling. I still remember Rove on Fox News prior to the polls closing on Election night 2000 predicting Bush to beat Gore by 5 points. Kerry did not get a huge boost on Election Day from undecided voters in 2004 despite Bush being below 50%. In fact, the national and state-by-state polls prior to that election were extremely accurate.
Misconception & Urban Myth #3: The mainstream media polls are biased
They absolutely could be biased this year, but we have already proven the inconvenient truth they’ve been very, very accurate the past two presidential elections. Past history isn’t always indicative of future performance in the ever-changing world of politics, but for conservative claims of rigged polling in 2012 to be true would require a level of media treachery the polling in the past two presidential election cycles shows no evidence of. In fact, in several battleground states in 2008 the RCP polling average underestimated the size of Obama’s victories.
For the past six months I have been saying there is a better chance of Romney winning the popular vote than the Electoral College, and I still believe that to be the case.
For example, I think just as the RCP average back in 2008 underestimated the Obama wave in some states he was destined to win already, I anticipate a wave of anti-Obama sentiment in states like Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas that will reflect the wave Obama got in solidly blue states four years ago. I also don’t believe the Obama turnout will be the same as it was in 2008 in those solidly blue states.
Romney 49.8% (+1.5)
I am buying at least some of the GOP spin Romney’s support is underrated. But understand that while many of you probably still think I’m underestimating Romney with this prediction, for me to predict Romney will out-poll the RCP average by more than a full point is already out on a limb.
There are no examples of a presidential candidate losing a battleground state when they’ve eclipsed 50% in the RCP average. There are only two battleground states in the RCP average where a candidate has eclipsed 50%:
There are several battleground states where the candidates are close to the magical 50% threshold in the RCP average:
New Hampshire: Obama
North Carolina: Romney
In fact, the only two battleground states the RCP average missed in the past two election cycles were Hawaii and Wisconsin in 2004, and they had Bush ahead in both by less than one percent (Kerry won both). So if you’re looking for upsets in battleground states, you’re looking for states where the RCP margin is that close. Two states qualify this year:
Colorado: Obama +0.6%
Virginia: Obama +0.2%
Anticipating Romney’s support is somewhat underestimated I will give him the benefit of the doubt and put both of those states in his column. However, I definitely think it is possible Constitution Party candidate (and former Virginia Congressman) Virgil Goode could cost Romney Virginia, especially with Romney running pro-abortion television ads in the state.
RCP projects 201 Electoral College votes safe for Obama, and 191 safe for Romney.
The scenario I have laid out so far with the battleground states fits perfectly with why Romney is making a late play for Pennsylvania, because it appears they agree with the numbers I’m laying out there and believe it may be their only real way to get the 270 Electoral College votes required to win the election. However, to win Pennsylvania Romney will have to overcome a 3.9-point deficit in the RCP average, which there is no historical precedent for.
At this point the Electoral College – and thus the presidency – comes down to Ohio and Pennsylvania, two states where no credible polls at any point in this campaign have put Romney ahead. I think the two most likely outcomes in the Electoral College are:
Scenario A (65% chance)
Scenario B (35% chance)
I’m not going to go into an in-depth analysis of the House of Representatives since no credible data exists that suggests the Republicans won’t retain control of that chamber. On the other hand, the Senate is far more competitive.
RCP currently lists 8 seats as “toss-ups.” Five of them are in states I am projecting Romney to win, and three of them are in states I am projecting Obama to win. To get to 51, and thus the majority, Republicans need to win 7 of the 8 toss-ups.
Richard Mourdock has come under fire for his recent pro-life comments, but this is still a Republican state and a state Romney will win comfortably providing coat-tails. Prediction: Republican
Scott Brown just isn’t an entrenched enough incumbent to withstand an Obama rout at the top of the ballot of a solidly Democrat state. Prediction: Democrat
Recent polling shows the embattled but staunchly conservative Todd Akin well within striking distance of Claire McCaskill. This is a state Romney should win by as many as 10 points, and I think that will be enough coat-tails to carry Akin across the finish line. Prediction: Republican
Republican Denny Rehberg just pulled ahead of his Democrat opponent in the RCP average, and he should benefit from Romney coat-tails as well. Prediction: Republican
Republican Dean Heller has led most of the way here in the RCP average, but he’s up against the Harry Reid political machine. Prediction: Republican
It’s an open seat in a Republican state that Romney will win handily. Prediction: Republican
This race has become as close as the presidential race, so I don’t think either candidate will receive any coat-tails. I’ll go with Tim Kaine on likability here. Prediction: Democrat
No credible polling currently has former Republican Governor Tommy Thompson in the lead, and unless Romney has a surprise surge I don’t expect that to change on Election Day. Prediction: Democrat
Barring any unforeseen upsets, I think the U.S. Senate will remain in Democrat hands—but just barely:
I believe Obama’s early voting advantage in my home state will be too much for Romney to overcome, but if my scenario holds but I’m wrong about Iowa, then we end up in the doomsday scenario of a 269-269 tie in the Electoral College.
Little Birdies tell me the Republicans could actually add to their 60-seat majority in the 100-seat Iowa House. Republicans are also expected to claim the majority in the State Senate from the Democrats, and little birdies have told me they are expecting the GOP to end up with 28-30 seats in the 50-seat chamber. Remember four years ago the GOP only had 18 seats in that chamber. One of those seats the Republicans think they can realistically pick up is none other than powerful Democrat Leader Mike Gronstal’s, the man that has singlehandedly thwarted every good piece of legislation from becoming law for the past four years.
Every little birdie I talk to expects Iowans to make David Wiggins the fourth State Supreme Court Justice to be fired by voters for his role in the controversial and unpopular Varnum v. Brien opinion.
Little birdies are also confident the GOP can win three of the state’s four Congressional seats: Steve King, Tom Latham, and John Archer.
The issue of marriage is 32-0 when it’s on the ballot, and remains the only undefeated issue in American politics. However, little birdies tell me they’re not confident that streak will continue with marriage on the ballot in four states that Obama is expected to win. I’m told pro-marriage forces are confident they can win Minnesota and Maryland, but not as confident about Maine and Washington.
For Mitt Romney to win the presidency, the polling in the Real Clear Politics average has to be historically wrong and biased. Frankly, to make the race as close as I’m making it is already giving Romney the benefit of the doubt on several fronts.
The most likely scenario is voters giving both parties something to feel good about with a split decision that includes Obama being re-elected—albeit narrowly.
You can friend “Steve Deace” on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @SteveDeaceShow.
Photo credit: Cain and Todd Benson (Creative Commons)
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