The polls show the contest between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama to be essentially tied, that is, the difference is within the margin of error. Here are a few things worth noting.
The polls are oversampling Democrats.
In 2008 Democrats came out to vote in record numbers. The historic turnout figures boosted Obama to the Oval Office and became an essential news story demonstrating that young and minority voters would engage in the political process.
In 2012 widely publicized political polling showing the Obama-Romney horse-race to be a virtual tie are predicated on Democrat turnout exceeding 2008 levels. For instance, CBS/NYTimes polling predicts Democrats will have a +9 advantage in Florida, up from a historic +3 Democrat edge in 2008. Though that is the most egregious discrepancy, the same bias predicts record Democrat turnout in other swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The enthusiasm gap has reserved.
Republican voters are eager to vote Obama out of office. In contrast, Democrat enthusiasm to keep Obama in the White House is significantly diminished. Those who measure such things cite the 2008 “enthusiasm gap” around +10 Democrat. Differing by state, the 2012 enthusiasm gap favors Republicans in the by +15 to +18 range, similar to 2010, the year of the Tea Party.
Of course an enthusiastic vote counts the same as an indifferent vote, but energy does affect turnout. Given that traditional Democrat constituencies are less likely to be reliable voters anyway, this enthusiasm gap not only underscores the problem in oversampling Democrats in opinion polls, but gives Republicans great hope. Should the weather be poor on election day, something known to diminish turnout among the less enthusiastic, the Republican advantage inches upward.
Independents favor Romney.
Yesterday’s CNN poll gave Romney a four point advantage among Independent voters, those voters who admitted no party affiliation. In the zero-sum game of elections, this is a dramatic shift away from Obama.
In 2008 the media swooned over the wide appeal of Obama as he won Independents in places like Ohio by 8 percentage points. Recent polls, from the outlier Ohio Newspaper Organization’s 28 point advantage to Romney to the better known outlets 2-5 percent edge for Romney, all indicate that Independent voters have given up on Obama and are ready to give someone else a chance.
Undecided voters are leaning away from Obama.
Different from Independent voters, the undecided are a small cohort of folks who genuinely are unsure of how to vote. Rather than the ignorant group some observers decry, the undecided are uncertain of which candidate will improve their personal lot in life, or are still unraveling the competing claims made by political ads.
The historical behavior of the undecided, like the independent, is to break in favor of the challenger as the election nears. That is why every incumbent worries about polling at under 50 percent while challengers are typically encouraged when reaching into the high 40 percent range.
Predictions that the undecided will break for Romney are given credence by polling showing low levels of support – usually in the 25 percent range – for Obama’s economic policies, the direction of the country, and the outlook for future improvement. In short, the undecided vote is finding the opposite of hope in the idea of another four years of Obama. This suits Romney very well.
The race is far from over and the upcoming debates should impact the independent and undecided voter, but Obama will be hard pressed to improve his standing among those groups if he attempts to vocally energize his base. For Romney the goal is to appear a capable alternative to the President. One month away the election and signs are favoring Romney.