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Blowing Smoke: Dem Turnout, Not Demography is Destiny

The Obama campaign’s top leadership was out in force today, pumping up the faithful as they reassured them that President Obama was certain to be re-elected. Senior advisor David Axelrod said he would shave his trademark mustache if the president lost. Meanwhile, Campaign manager Jim Messina vowed that Democrats would turn out in even larger numbers than they did in 2008 when Obama’s hope and change mania was at its peak. While some may dismiss this as pre-election braggadocio, that’s exactly what’s going to have to happen if the president is to save Axelrod’s facial hair.

That was made clear again today with the release of several polls that seemed certain to bolster Democratic optimism. As Alana noted, a Quinnipiac/CBS News/New York Times poll of Ohio, Virginia and Florida showed President Obama leading in all three of the three key battleground states. The Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling firm also released a poll in Ohio showing the president ahead. But these surveys, and just about every other poll that favored Obama, all had samples that were heavily skewed toward Democrats. Quinnipiac’s sample had seven percent more Democrats than Republicans in Florida and eight percent more in both Ohio and Virginia. PPP had whopping nine percent more Democrats. By contrast, a Roanoke College poll in Virginia had a sample of only four percent more Democrats than Republicans. Not surprisingly, that yielded a result that gave Mitt Romney a five percent lead in the state.

It all boils down to this. Unless the president’s organization can conjure up turnout numbers on Tuesday that will match or even exceed the totals he achieved in 2008 when Democratic enthusiasm was highest and Republicans were decidedly unenthusiastic, he cannot win.

Those who defend the Democratic-leaning polls point out with justice that partisan identification is not set in stone and can change from one election cycle to another. But the gains Democrats are assuming go beyond the normal fluctuations that occur. They also contradict evidence about such affiliation over the past four years, which indicates that support for the Democrats has declined, rather than holding steady or increasing.

A better argument for the Democrats would be the slight increases in the percentage of the overall population that are minorities, a development that would tend to favor the president’s re-election. But for that to be a factor in the election, turnout of African-Americans and Hispanics (or at least those portions of the diverse Hispanic vote that favor the Democrats) would have to exceed the record numbers that took to the polls in 2008.

Once we dismiss these factors, we are faced with the plain fact that in order for the president to have the kind of advantage that Quinnipiac, PPP and other Obama-leaning polls give him, his party is going to have manufacture more Democrats than they did four years ago.

Is that possible? Yes it is. But it is also highly unlikely given the fact that 2008 was a cakewalk for Obama against a weaker Republican opponent at a time when the GOP was decidedly unenthusiastic about giving their party another four years in office.

It is far more reasonable to assume that turnout numbers will give the Democrats only a slight partisan advantage, if they get one at all. While anything can happen in an election so close, the only polls showing the president winning at either the state or national levels require a disproportionate percentage of affiliated Democrats among the likely voters surveyed. That means anything other than a repeat of Obama’s turnout wave in 2008 will ensure Mitt Romney’s election. Unless Messina and Axelrod have a ground game that can work that kind of miracle, all they are doing today is blowing smoke.



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