ELECTIONATE NOVEMBER 5, 2012
Over the last week, the best arguments on behalf of a Romney win have fallen off one-by-one. Before the final presidential debate, one could credibly argue that Romney had taken a slight lead in the national polls, that the big southeastern battleground states were tilting toward Romney, and that even though Romney trailed in Ohio, Obama was beneath 48 percent in a traditionally Republican state where the president was defying gravity. The national polls cast additional doubt on the state polls, or were at least cause to think that Romney could claw his way to an Electoral College victory. Just for good measure, there was still time left. Not only have intervening polls weakened or outright defeated many of these arguments, but Romney’s time is up.
Rather than shrink over the final two weeks of the campaign, Obama’s lead in the critical battleground states has actually grown. Obama now leads in Ohio by nearly 3 points and the president exceeds 49 percent of the vote. If Romney loses Ohio, he would need to carry the toss-up states carried by twice by Bush and then Wisconsin plus either Iowa or New Hampshire. But the polls have gotten out of hand for Romney in Wisconsin, which might have something to do with why Ryan and Romney made more campaign stops in Pennsylvania and Minnesota than they did in Wisconsin over the final three days of the campaign. Combined with Nevada, Ohio and Wisconsin are sufficient to provide Obama with the presidency and Romney does not lead in a non-partisan poll of either state.
Just for good measure, Romney’s position in the next tier of battleground states has also worsened. Yesterday, 5 polls showed Obama ahead in Virginia. Not all of these polls are of the highest caliber, but the big picture is that Obama now leads by 1.2 points in a state that Romney can't lose if he trails in Ohio and Nevada. 10 of the 16 polls following the final debate show Obama leading in Virginia, compared to just 3 for Romney. The polls have been somewhat better for Romney in Florida, but it would be generous to characterize the state has leaning clearly in his direction, especially if one would not say as much about Obama’s tenuous edge in Virginia. It is perhaps telling that there is a case that the polls are kinder to Obama in North Carolina than they are to Romney in Ohio.
To the extent that the national polls added to uncertainty or otherwise cast doubt on Obama’s lead in the battleground states, the national polls have also moved in Obama’s direction, narrowing the gap between state and national polls and reducing the degree of uncertainty about the state polling. Just for good measure, Obama averaged 48.9 percent of the vote in yesterday’s national polls, which is somewhat more impressive than the narrowness of Obama’s lead.
And perhaps most importantly, time is up.
The polls are quite consistent and clear in the battleground states worth 270 electoral votes. With Obama above 49 percent in Nevada, Wisconsin, and Ohio, a wave of undecided voters can't flip the outcome. At this point, the polls must be wrong for Romney to prevail. The polls have been wrong before and they will be wrong again. The race is close enough for the polls to conceivably get one of those states wrong, but the odds are against it.