The decisive state in the 2000 presidential election has received less and less attention over the last twelve years. Florida tilted more Republican than the nation in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections, and Kerry’s pursuit of Ohio combined with the emergence of new battlegrounds in the Southwest and the Mid-Atlantic to break Florida’s stranglehold on the Electoral College. But while few argue that Florida is 2012’s most important state, its 29 electoral votes—the most of any battleground state—remain hotly contested.
Last week, NBC/WSJ blessed the political community with a battleground state subsample showing Obama leading by 8 percentage points in twelve critical states. Predictably, NBC/WSJ’s finding revived the spring tale of Obama’s decided advantage in the Electoral College, which would allow him to decisively win a close national contest. As I mentioned at the time, a small sample and contradictory data combined to cast great doubt on that conclusion. This week, CNN Opinion Research followed NBC/WSJ’s footsteps with a similarly misguided polling adventure.
Last week’s health care decision is poised to join a long list of supposed game changers that failed to fundamentally reshape the race—from the death of Osama Bin Laden to Obama’s support for same-sex marriage. Why haven’t historic events changed the election? None alter the fundamentals of the race: poor economic conditions have lodged Obama’s approval rating beneath 50 percent, but Romney has not yet consolidated the pool of voters with reservations about Obama’s performance, at least in part due to his own deficiencies.
When NBC/WSJ released a poll showing Obama up by 3 points nationally but by 8 in the swing states, it predictably led many to conclude that Obama has a larger lead in the swing states than he does nationally. But as acknowledged here and here, the evidence for a structural Obama advantage in the Electoral College is unpersuasive, at least at this early stage. Just one day later, NBC released three polls conducted by Marist University showing a tight race in three critical battlegrounds: North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Michigan.
After months of deliberation, the Supreme Court ruled to uphold the Affordable Care Act in a historic 5-4 decision. Make no mistake: the electoral consequences of the Court’s decision pale in comparison to the implications for the health care system and the scope of federal authority. On those far more important questions, I’ll be reading Jonathan Cohn and Jeffrey Rosen for superb insights and analysis, and you should be too. While many of the policy and legal consequences of the decision will probably be found in the text of Roberts' opinion, the political fallout is uncertain.
So, you think Obama leads by 8 percentage points in the swing states, as suggested by last night’s NBC/WSJ survey? Before you jump on the bandwagon, understand what that entails: a blowout. In 2008, Obama carried NBC/WSJ’s twelve swing states by 7.7 percentage points. A result like last night’s poll would require a repeat performance, even as most polls show Obama’s standing substantially worse than four years ago. Obama’s big 7.7 percent advantage was driven by decisive victories in several states, including big states like Michigan and Pennsylvania.
More information is usually for the best, but last night’s NBC/WSJ poll took an unusual step that could detract from our understanding of the horse race. In addition to reporting Obama’s 3 percentage point lead, NBC/WSJ decided to note that Obama leads by 8 percentage points in 12 swing states: the ten true battlegrounds where both sides are investing resources, plus Michigan and New Mexico (rolls eyes). Predictably, political reporters have jumped on this data, implying that Obama holds a structural advantage in the Electoral College.
Orlando was once heralded as the key swing city in the key swing state, nestled at the center of the country’s key swing region, the I-4 corridor, where many believed the presidency would be decided. In 2000 and 2004, the sentiment was understandable. No populous Florida County was closer to the state average than Orlando’s Orange County in 2000, and Kerry won Orange County by just 815 votes out of nearly 400,000 in 2004. But over the last ten years, profound demographic changes have transformed the fast-growing Orlando-Kissimmee region.
With the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Arizona law and the Obama administration’s recent decision to halt deportations and allow work authorization for certain young undocumented workers likely to gin up enthusiasm among Latino voters, it’s worth revisiting the math in 2012’s stealth battleground: Arizona. Neither campaign is airing advertisements in Arizona, but the Obama campaign has boots on the ground registering voters in an attempt to vault the state into the toss-up column.
The long-awaited health care ruling didn't arrive this morning, but there was another significant announcement: The Supreme Court ruled 5-3 against three components of the controversial Arizona immigration law, while upholding the provision requiring police to check the immigration status of individuals suspected to be in the United States illegally.