This election will not be close. That was my prediction last May when the shape of the presidential campaign became clear and it is my prediction now. While the media and pundits continue to muddy the water with claims and counter-claims feeding a conventional wisdom that this race will be a nail-biter, the reality is that historical facts and strategic blunders long ago doomed Barrack Obama to a single term.
The macro-economic climate in the U.S. has remained poor throughout this election season. Despite efforts by the MSM to prop up Obama with cherry-picked statistics, the balance of economic data reveals an economy that has limped along, failed to create jobs, and has discouraged wealth creation and risk taking. Doggedly high unemployment, a widening budget deficit, uncertainty and the objective failure of Keynesian stimulus have been evident to every American for three years. Moreover, these conditions have affected most Americans personally. This alone makes re-election nearly impossible as attested to by historic examples.
For all of the ideological fervor from the noisiest corners of candidate fandom, rational people vote their self-interest and most American are rational. James Carville’s admonition in 1992 that “it’s the economy, stupid” remains resoundingly true today. The fact that Team Obama has been forced to make the election about so many small, peripheral issues is a testament to the fact that they know they can’t win the election on the one issue that matters above all others. What they have failed to accept is that no amount of “divide and conquer” constituency politics will separate the vast majority from their rational self-interest. Most women will never be in the market for abortions, but they will be in the market for a job.
The great strategic blunder of the Obama campaign will be studied for decades to come, the decision to spend early in an effort to make Mitt Romney unacceptable. While a common and time tested electoral strategy, the Obama team forgot one important thing about campaign messages; they must be at least reasonably consistent with reality. You simply cannot tell the electorate that day is night and hope to be credible over time.
One way or another the fact that Mitt Romney is a basically decent and reasonable man was going to bubble up as more people focused on the election. The straw man carefully crafted by team Obama over the summer simply didn’t pass the smell test when exposed to the light of day. The decision by Romney’s campaign to hold back spending until the fall was an acknowledgement that they understood this. The millions that tuned into the debates confirmed it. Check and mate.
But the most entertaining fall-out will be the recriminations of pollsters and polling generally in the wake of Romney’s 330+ electoral vote win next Tuesday. It has been set in stone early on that the bulk of polling data for this cycle would incorporate some element of the 2008 turn-out model. Averaging past performance is a common tool in polling and, indeed, in all statistical modeling. But what happens if unique and unrepeatable factors create an outlier result? In 2008 President Obama brought out new voters and Democrats in historic numbers. He won independents and even cut into the Republican base because of three unique features of his candidacy: his race, the widespread disapproval of George W. Bush, and the desire to try something different in light of unprecedented economic turmoil.
Pollsters in 2012 continue to weigh these unrepeatable Obama benefits into an election cycle with fundamentally different structural features. In fact, most polls show Republicans enjoy a double digit enthusiasm lead going in to Tuesday. Yet polling models continue to show narrow wins for the president in key battleground and an overall electoral advantage. My own analysis suggests that Democrats are being overrepresented by an average of just under 3 points, enough to swing CO, IA, NH, NV, OH, WI and Maine’s 2nd CD while locking down VA, FL, NC and Nebraska’s 2nd CD. It also puts him within spitting distance in PA, MI, MN, and OR.
That would give Romney a historic rout with 355 electoral votes. Compare that to the Real Clear Politics average showing him currently leading in states worth just 235 electoral votes. This disparity will become the stuff of teeth-gnashing, consternation and soul-searching among pollsters and the media that relies on them when the ballots are counted. Hopefully it will lead to better methodology and less reliance on polls to drive news cycles in the future, but in the short run it will just be fun to watch Nate Silver trying to explain how he could have gotten it so very, very wrong.