ELECTIONATE OCTOBER 22, 2012
The polls show a close race heading into the final presidential debate.
The NBC/WSJ poll was their first since the presidential debate and they found a deadlocked race, down from a 3-point Obama lead in late September. But most of Romney's gains came from changes among likely but not registered voters, providing additional evidence to suggest that the enthusiasm gap has returned over the last few weeks. On average, post-debate national polls show a 4 point gap between registered and likely voters, higher than the more traditional 2 point gap.
Unfortunately, NBC/WSJ did not detail whether the source of Romney's likely voter edge was projected Republican turnout increasing to even higher levels or a deterioration in Democratic enthusiasm and interest. For what it's worth, the RAND poll is consistent with the former, as they show Republican intention to vote reaching 88 percent--the highest level recorded for either party. Democrats lag 4 points behind at 83 percent, not far off their prior high of 84 percent just after the first presidential debate. At this time four years ago, most polls did not show a substantial gap between likely and registered voters.
It's worth reflecting on just how tough it is to produce a gap between likely and registered voters of this magnitude. If the RAND poll was correct, and 88 percent of Romney voters (yes, it's technically "Republicans") turned out compared to 84 percent of Democrats, that would only produce a 2 point gap between registered and likely voters. Using the RAND numbers, a 4 point gap could require nearly twice as many registered Obama supporters to stay home on Election Day compared to their Republican counterparts. This shouldn't be interpreted to suggest that the polls are overstating the RV/LV gap; the average of polls tends to be about right. Whether Obama can close the enthusiasm gap by Election Day is a separate question.
The state polls didn't tell us much that we didn't know last Friday. The one exception was PPP's poll of Ohio, where PPP found Obama's lead falling to one point from five last week. As discussed in yesterday's piece on the Ohio polls, this PPP survey is currently the only poll to find evidence of tightening in the Buckeye State since the first presidential debate, but it will be interesting to see whether additional polls show similar movement in Romney's direction.
Digging for a second most interesting state poll is tough, but I'll settle for the North Carolina GOP showing Romney up by 4 points. That's right around the average for post-debate polls in North Carolina, but a 4 point Romney lead coming from the North Carolina GOP raised my eyebrows.