Romney vs. Obama: It’s Officially a Nailbiter

Douglas E. Schoen and Jessica Tarlov on why both candidates have (different) reasons for optimism.

The 2012 campaign has featured moments of wild unpredictability, and the past few days have been no exception. There are new data points to consider, new variables to weigh—and a number of (different) reasons for both candidates to be feeling optimistic.

Let’s start with the good news for Romney. President Obama’s job-approval rating is dropping and dropping fast. In the three-day period ending on Oct. 23, Gallup showed that 53 percent approved of the job Obama was doing as opposed to 42 percent who did not. Three days later, Obama’s approval rating had dropped seven points to 46 percent. When incumbents start precipitously dropping, it is difficult to arrest the decline. Obama was in good position when he was hovering around the 50 percent mark, and although this drop doesn’t seal his fate, it is not a positive indicator for him.

Meanwhile, a new poll from Gallup, which boasts the headline “2012 U.S. Electorate Looks Like 2008,” sounds on the surface like good news for Team Obama. That said, digging down into the data reveals sizable shifts in party identification. As opposed to 2008, when Gallup found a 10-point advantage for Democrats, Gallup now shows a one-point advantage for Republicans. The advantage further increases when Independents are asked which party they lean toward—bringing the breakdown to 49 percent Republican and 46 percent Democratic.

The news from the swing states is more mixed. Rasmussen now shows Romney tied with Obama in Wisconsin and up two points in Ohio. In addition, a Columbus Dispatch survey shows a tie in Ohio.

At the same time, several other polls from the past few days (including Survey USA and PPP) show Obama maintaining a lead in Ohio. Moreover, the Real Clear Politics average continues to have him up more than two points in both Ohio and Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, there are a number of variables going into the final week, some of which could help Obama. Hurricane Sandy gives Obama the chance to show leadership, and if the federal response is strong this should help him. Plus, we are now in the midst of the final get-out-the-vote push, where the election may very well be decided. The president’s effort is certainly going to be superior to the Romney campaign’s, which Republicans themselves concede.

What’s more, it’s possible that we could see a serious foreign-policy development in the next week. The president is on record as saying that he is going to respond to the attack on our consulate in Benghazi that took the lives of four Americans as quickly as possible. There is the chance that we will receive news on this before the election, and it may influence the outcome. We do not believe that either side would use this for political purposes, but it may very well work out that the timing would be fortuitous for the president.

Whatever happens—whether a 269-269 electoral college tie, or an Obama electoral college win coupled with a Romney win in the popular vote, or a narrow victory for either candidate in both the popular vote and the electoral college—it seems certain that there will be no clear national consensus heading into the next administration. All signs point to continued gridlock and infighting, perhaps even more than in the last four years.