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Romney’s Lead: More Than Just One Poll

On Tuesday, New York Times blogger Nate Silver attempted to make sense of the latest round of polls that had been released on Monday. Silver, an astute political statistical analyst, took note of the post-debate trend that has tilted the presidential contest in favor of Mitt Romney, but argued that the average of the various polls that had altered his daily forecast of the outcome had been skewed by one poll. That poll from Pew Research showed Romney ahead of President Obama by four percentage points, a result that seemed out of line with other surveys.

But the problem with dismissing the Pew Research Poll is that as more data is coming in from other sources, it isn’t possible to pretend that what has happened in the last week is the product of one poll. With the latest Gallup Tracking poll and an Investors Business Daily/TIPP Tracking poll both showing Romney ahead by two points, as well as other polls showing Romney gaining ground in swing states, there is a clear trend that is showing up across the board in a wide range of surveys. Romney has spent most of the year trailing the president and looked to be in big trouble in September as his deficit grew. But the first debate was clearly a turning point in the race, and though Silver has tried to argue that the post-Denver bounce has already started to recede, there is now a wide body of evidence illustrating that Obama is losing ground and, at best, is locked in a dead heat with his Republican challenger. The fact that the Real Clear Politics average of major polls is showing Romney with an aggregate lead today for the first time all year must send chills down the spines of the Obama campaign.

The signs of trouble for the Democrats are showing up in a raft of new polls being released every day. In the past few days, states like Michigan and Pennsylvania, which looked to be in the bag for the president, are now tightening up. Obama had opened up a significant lead in the key battleground state of Ohio, but now the Buckeye state, which was being colored blue in most electoral maps last month, is now back in the tossup column.

Some Democrats dismissed the Pew poll because they felt it reflected a disproportionately high sample of Republican voters. Yet the president’s cheering section had no problems with polls that were the product of samples that were based on the assumption that Democrats would heavily outnumber Republicans at the voting booth in November. While the assumption that Obama can duplicate his 2008 turnout seems wildly optimistic, Silver also wisely points out that party identification can be fluid in a presidential election. The number of those claiming sympathy with the GOP may be increasing. After getting a good look at the two candidates side by side last week, many Americans may have decided the Republicans aren’t the monsters that Democratic ads have portrayed.

Silver continues to insist that the “fundamentals” of the race are still pointing toward a favorable outcome for the president. He believes the index of economic factors he has compiled works in favor, rather than against, the incumbent. The assumption there is that the majority of Americans believe the rosy numbers about unemployment. Many may still blame the country’s problems on George W. Bush, and others may be persuaded by the Democrats’ attempt to brand Romney a “liar” based on assertions that even liberals concede are misleading if not a downright false.

As I have pointed out many times in this space, conservatives have always underestimated how much of an advantage it is for Obama to have the mainstream media in his pocket (something that was clearly demonstrated by their use of a clip of Andrea Mitchell wrongly claiming that Romney would raise taxes on the middle class in an ad that is being run repeatedly on national broadcasts such as the baseball playoffs). The right also tends to ignore the powerful hold that Obama’s status as the first African-American president has on many voters.

But the sinking feeling that has set in among Democrats in the wake of the president’s disastrous debate performance stems from their grudging recognition of the fact that the political messiah of 2008 is starting to show his feet of clay.

If the trend holds, and there is good reason to think it will, I expect Silver will start adjusting his November forecast to reflect the fact that the president should no longer be considered the overwhelming favorite. Anything can happen in the next four weeks, but right now it’s starting to look as if Obama peaked too early and Romney caught fire at just the right moment.

UPDATE:

After digesting the polls released on Tuesday, Nate Silver has now backed away from his claim that Romney’s surge is solely the result of one survey skewing the averages. He concedes that Romney’s “uptick on Tuesday was a result of a wider volume of evidence.”

Despite this, he is still sticking to his forecast model that shows President Obama as the overwhelming favorite in the election:

The forecast model is not quite ready to jump on board with the notion that the race has become a literal toss-up; Mr. Romney will need to maintain his bounce for a few more days, or extend it into high-quality polls of swing states, before we can be surer about that.

But we are ready to conclude that one night in Denver undid most of the advantage Mr. Obama had appeared to gain in September.

Silver believes the president has amassed such a large lead that even Romney’s significant post-debate bounce still leaves him trailing. However, he does admit that the evidence of the national polls shows it to be essentially a dead heat.

It will be interesting to follow Silver’s forecast and to see whether his model, which seems to favor Obama, will stick with the president to the bitter end or wind up hedging its bets by Election Day.


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