Monday, November 05, 2012

Who Will Win?

In the wake of his performing as president during Hurricane Sandy, Obama has taken a 0.7% lead in the RealClearPolitics average of polls. In state by state polls, it looks even better for the president. But this is a tight race that could go either way. Here’s my case for each side.  

Why Obama will win.

Shortly after the 2010 Republican midterm election victory, we argued Obama and Democrats had good reason to be cocky about their chances in 2012. First, the turnout would be more like 2008 than 2010--more of their folks would show up to vote. And second, it was time to recognize that Obama’s coalition--minorities, unmarried women, youth, and liberal whites--constitute a national majority. We presented a chart showing the coalition combined makes up over 60% of the population. They don’t all vote, they aren’t all citizens, and a chunk of them will vote economy over group identity. But starting at 60% means leading from strength.

Then in September, we were struck by the following reasoning offered by American Interest’s Walter Russell Mead. Mead wrote,
Unemployment is heavily concentrated among people who are not very likely to vote for a Republican no matter what the economy is doing . . .African Americans, Hispanics and the young. Those groups aren’t likely to vote Republican [or] to blame their problems on a Democratic president.
Mead means that even minorities, youth, (and unmarried women) who put jobs first aren’t likely to vote Republican. He has a point. A vast majority of Obama’s folks decided long ago they are Democrats, not Republicans. Obama’s on their side; Republicans are the other side.

So Obama wins, right? Not necessarily.

Why Romney will win.

Since poll averages favor Obama, any Romney win will be a mild surprise. The polls will have turned out wrong. Enthusiasm is one possible reason for an error. More Republicans seem enthusiastic about Romney than Democrats about Obama. Another reason could be that independents, who seem to be polling in favor of Romney, end up being a large enough group to swing the election his way. A third possible reason for a Romney surprise could stem from Obama’s inability to rise above 50%--usually a danger sign for incumbents who watch undecideds move to the challenger on election day.

Finally, are some whites reluctant to tell a pollster they favor a white over a black? Will there be, in other words, a “Bradley effect,” named after black ex-Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, who lost the 1982 California governor’s race despite being ahead in polls?

Obama seemed post-racial in 2008, but this year, his weak job performance and his conscious rallying of minorities and women against white male Romney is driving white males--and to a lesser extent, their spouses--toward Romney. Is all of this shift showing up in the polls, or does some stay hidden?

We don’t know. But if Obama loses, you can bet many (most?) commentators will blame his defeat on white racial voting.

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