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State of the Race, Part 2: Why Romney Wins

State of the Race, Part 2: Why Romney Wins

By Sean Trende - September 20, 2012


This is the second in a three-part series on the state of the race. Yesterday, I laid out the reasons why Barack Obama will win the presidency. Today, I press the case for Mitt Romney.

The basic argument for why Romney is being written off far too early is pretty simple. He trails the incumbent president by 48.2 percent to 45.3 percent in the RCP Average seven weeks before the election. There are very few races that have been this close, this far out from Election Day, that would be characterized as anything other than a tossup.

Of course, we can dig quite a bit deeper than that:

1) The economy is still lousy, but as I noted yesterday, it is not so bad as to make Obama an automatic loser, as many pundits assumed. The years that have been catastrophic for presidential parties -- 1980 and 2008 -- have been years when the economy has actually been contracting during the election year.

At the same time, most years with economies similar to this one -- 1960, 1976, 1992, 2000, 2004 -- see party power transfer, albeit in a reasonably close election. The one outlier here is 2004, where an incumbent president won by a healthy share in a mediocre economy. But Bush lost voters who cast their ballots based on the economy by over 60 points that year.

What saved him was that 47 percent of voters either voted on moral issues (such as gay marriage) or terrorism or taxes. Those were the only issues that Bush beat Kerry on in the exit polls, but it was enough.

Again, Obama probably gets graded on a curve here given the mess he inherited. Whether that is the equivalent of the War on Terror in 2004 remains to be seen.

2) Most of what we’re seeing in the polls is consistent with a close race. Rather than cherry-picking favorite polls (“Obama is up 8 in Pew -- landslide!” “Obama is down 2 in Rasmussen -- he’s doomed!”), let’s just look at simple poll averages. Obama is up 2.9 points in the RCP Average. His bounce peaked at 49 percent, which is just barely below the threshold he probably needs in order to win.

If we assume that the average is his “true” value -- and we should note that Gallup, Rasmussen and AP/GfK are the only national polls to include data from any of the last three days -- then we should expect to see a bunch of polls showing an Obama lead of between one and five points, a poll or two showing a slight Romney lead, and a poll or two showing a high single-digit lead for the president. That’s exactly what we see.

When a Democrat is up three points, we expect to see decent Democratic leads in the two-to-four-point range in swing states like Ohio, Colorado, Iowa and Nevada, expect to see close races in places like Florida, and expect to see mid-to-high-digit Democratic leads in places like Pennsylvania and Michigan. This is what we tend to see.

Since state polling is more sparse than national polling, we’re more susceptible to the outliers: Obama isn’t up 14 in Wisconsin (he wouldn’t be campaigning there if he were), but I don’t think he’s only up one in Colorado, either. Taken as a whole, the state polling is consistent with the national polls.

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Sean Trende is senior elections analyst for RealClearPolitics. He is a co-author of the 2014 Almanac of American Politics and author of The Lost Majority. He can be reached at strende@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @SeanTrende.

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