Mike Berman’s Washington Watch

October 26, 2012 12:00 PM

The Presidential Race

The Schedule

10 days until the election

November 6, 2012 Election Day

[This is the last Watch before Election Day]

The Presidential Race

The debates are over, the race is on its final lap. In 10 days it will be over. A President will be re-elected or a new President will be anointed. At least it is scheduled to be over.

There are four plausible initial outcomes to the election.

President Obama wins the popular vote and the Electoral College vote, and sets about his second term.

Mitt Romney wins the popular vote and the Electoral College vote, and begins work on his transition and inauguration in January 2013.

Romney wins the popular vote, but Obama wins the Electoral College vote. Unless there is an Electoral College blowout, which is not likely, the winner of the election may not be known until December, since that result will likely trigger one or more State-based recounts. (It is unlikely that the reverse would occur, with Obama winning the popular vote and Romney winning in the Electoral College.)

Regardless of who wins the the popular vote, there is at least the possibility of 269 to 269 tie in the Electoral College. Assuming no State-based recounts are successful, the election is then thrown into the House of Representatives, which would undoubtedly select Romney. Thereafter, the Senate selects the Vice President. Even if the Democrats continue to hold the Senate, there are enough Democratic Senators, if not all of them, who would support the Republican nominee. (It is fun to think about the possibility of Joe Biden being elected to a second term.)

Here is how the election has tracked, based on likely voters, since before the respective Party conventions. [Note: Around the early part of October the picture painted of the election by the Gallup survey, based on a seven-day rolling average, began to diverge from the results presented by other major media surveys.]

Leading up to the two conventions the race was about even, ranging from a +1 Romney lead to a +1 Obama lead.

Post-convention and leading up to the first debate on October 3rd, Obama led consistently by +1 to as high as + 8 in mid-September. In the week just before the first debate the Obama lead was +2 to +4.

Following the first debate Romney took a slight lead, ranging from +0 to +4. The clear consensus after the 1st debate was that Romney had won. It was as if Obama had decided not to show up.

The morning after that first debate, one or more of the news commentators that WW respects stated that the result of the debate was that Romney was now acceptable as a candidate. All of the work that the Obama campaign had done for months to make Romney appear to be unacceptable was wiped out in ninety minutes.

But the result of the first debate was about more than Obama’s weak performance. Romney was decidedly more comfortable. Some suggested that he always did well in such one-on-one encounters, although during the Republican primary they were multi-person events.

It is quite possible that for the first time in this campaign Mitt Romney was able to be more like who he truly is, rather than someone seeking the approval of the most conservative elements of the Republican Party.

To that point, consider the possibility that throughout the campaign Romney had to go through the following process each time he spoke or, more importantly, answered a question.

A question would be posed and, internally, his first instinct would be to respond to the question based on his natural instincts and history. But, before he said anything, he would stop himself and go through his internal checklist of how he was supposed to respond to the question in order to satisfy the conservatives. Only then would he produce an answer. All of this had to happen in a nano-second, and it likely caused some of the awkwardness that Romney demonstrated in public.

In the first debate, for the first time in this campaign, Romney responded as Romney. It made it appear, of course, that Romney was changing a variety of his positions. In fact, he was, but it did not make any difference. Romney was comfortable and had one of his best public performances.

The saying goes that “debates are not important until they are.” Whoever wins the Presidential election, the impact of the first debate will be part of the 2012 election history.

The Vice-Presidential debate came next, on October 11th. Vice President Joe Biden was declared the winner over Congressman Paul Ryan, but it did not have much impact in the overall race. In the five days between the VP debate and the 2nd Presidential debate five days later, the polls ranged from Romney +4 to Obama +5.

The second Presidential debate took place on October 16th. Obama showed up in body and in spirit, and was pronounced the winner by media commentators.

The first survey taken in its entirety after the debate was the NBC/WSJ survey, which was in the field October 17-20. It found the race even among likely voters, at 47% to 47%. In the previous NBC/WSJ survey, which finished on September 30th, Obama led by 49% to 46%. Perhaps the most dramatic finding of this survey was that Obama led Romney among women by only 8% percentage points, as compared to 16% percentage points in the last survey.

Other findings from that survey (registered voters) include:

* By 46% to 38% respondents think that Obama is better able to lead the country than Romney for the next four years

* By 45% to 41% respondents think that Romney is better prepared than Obama to create jobs and improve the economy

* 62% believe that, if Obama is re-elected, he should make major changes in his second term

* Who is preferred when measured against the following qualities

  Obama Romney
Dealing with issues of concern to women 53% 25%
Being compassionate enough to understand average people 53 29
Looking out for the middle class 52 36
Knowledgeable and experienced enough to handle the Presidency 49 36
Being a good Commander-in-Chief 44 41
Have the strong leadership qualities needed to be President 41 41

The Gallup survey which ended on October 22th and includes 5 days after the debate in its rolling seven day average has Romney leading among likely voters 51% to 45%. [At this point the Gallup poll is an outlier among major polls.]

The final Presidential debate took place on October 22nd. It was dedicated to foreign policy, although both men regularly connected foreign policy to domestic policy, knowing that the real voter interest is in the latter. Obama was seen to have “won” the debate, but Romney acquitted himself sufficiently well so as not to undercut the aura of acceptability that he now wears.

In terms of the apparent influence of the debates on the election, the change was in Romney’s favor. Prior to the first debate Obama was leading Romney by a +3-4 points. Following the 3rd Presidential debate Romney leads by about +3, a swing of 6 points.

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