Recent dueling headlines have been predicting an Obama landslide or a Romney steamroller in the November election. The polls show a tight race, but given the fundamentals of the economy, it shouldn’t even be close.
Most if not all opinion polls show that the economy, jobs and the federal budget deficit are the issues of most concern to voters. This is understandable given the failing state of the economy. Growth is down, unemployment is up and deficits are off the charts. All major polls from the last few months show that more people believe Republican Mitt Romney would be better able to deal with these bread-and-butter issues than President Obama.
The same polls, however, show a neck-and-neck race for the White House, and the incumbent enjoys inexplicably high public support. Mr. Obama had a 45 percent approval rating in the Gallup weekly survey for the first week in August. This placed him around 10 points below first-term presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton at the same point in their successful re-election efforts. Mr. Obama’s approval number is 10 points above where Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush were in their unsuccessful runs for second terms.
Mr. Obama’s position is closest to George W. Bush, whose approval was three points higher at this stage of the race, when he was tied in the polls with Democrat John Kerry. At that point, though, Mr. Bush’s economic record was much stronger, with gross domestic product growth double what it is now and unemployment at 5.4 percent and dropping, compared to 8.3 percent and rising. Today’s economic numbers are somewhat worse than they were in August 1992, when incumbent Mr. Bush senior was running 20 points behind challenger Mr. Clinton in the polls. By rights, that is where Mr. Obama should be.
The race may come down to which side is more motivated to get their vote out. A number of polls have shown Republicans are much more likely to vote than Democrats, while no recent major poll has suggested the reverse. Gallup weekly data reveal that most of the demographic subgroups that are highly motivated to vote either lean toward Mr. Romney or are solidly behind him. These include people over 65, white voters over 30, married people, those who are highly religious, those earning over $90,000 per year, college graduates, conservatives, white men and — surprise — white women, who back Mr. Romney by an 8-point margin. Likewise, those who are less motivated to vote — such as younger voters, nonwhites, lower-income groups and the less educated — tend to back Mr. Obama.
Some analysts argue fundamentals such as the economy are unimportant because the electoral game has changed in the 21st century. America has become so strongly polarized that even the grim realities of this administration’s economic policies won’t sway voters into turning against Mr. Obama. The electoral map is mostly settled into predictable red and blue regions, so the race will come down to a few key precincts in several swing states. Given the fix the nation is in, Mr. Obama’s only hope is getting voters to deny reality.
The Washington Times