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In the comments on my Romney/Bain/Big Tobacco post, I heard a lot of people saying "Enough about Romney, we believe! Why is the race so close?"
Is the race really as close as we think it is? Or is that a perception driven by the Romney campaign working the refs every time things turn away from him?
If you follow the polling over the past week since the debate, it seems that we live in a really weird, fast-paced culture where themes and memes aren't always driven by fact-based assumptions. See, for example, John Amato's post on the Beltway groupthink developed via Twitter.
Tuesday's Pew poll, cited in Rachel Maddow's report Tuesday night, for example, was adjusted from the week before, causing a full 11 point swing in results. Via The People's View:
Pew polled fewer voters altogether, and, they acquiesced to the wingnut browbeating and entirely took away the Democratic registration advantage documented in actual voting in 2008, registration data, and well, their own previous polling.
Please do not assume I am a poll truther. I confess to falling into that trap back in 2010, when I challenged the belief that Democrats were unenthusiastic and wouldn't come out to vote. That was a mistake I will not make twice. I take polls seriously, but also think it's worth looking at them more holistically in terms of trends. My error in 2010 was not considering the trend, which clearly did indicate that Democrats and progressives were not inclined to come out and vote, for whatever reason.
The very best poll for watching trends is the Rand tracking poll, which polls the same sample on a weekly basis. That poll has some interesting results, particularly if you have a look at the "Intention to Vote" tab, which shows a trend upward for Republican voters and a fairly flat line for Democrats. The more disturbing trend to me is that women are starting to trend upwards for Romney. Is that because he seems to be pivoting toward the center on his positions regarding abortion and birth control?
In 2012, the "registered voter" numbers are relevant, where they were not in the midterm elections. For example, Democrats hold the edge in voter registrations -- legitimate ones at that -- in Florida, Iowa, Nevada and North Carolina.
And then there is the Gallup tracking poll which came out Wednesday morning showing that among registered voters Obama leads 50-45 percent while the race is a dead heat among likely voters, 48-48. This puts it back to pre-debate levels in the likely voter column, at least.
In the end, the road to the White House is a two-lane highway straight through Ohio. And in Ohio, the Secretary of State has made one final effort to block early voting on the weekend before Election Day by filing an appeal with the US Supreme Court. Ari Berman writes in The Nation:
Remember what happened that year? George W. Bush won the state by a narrow 118,000 votes in an election marred by widespread electoral dysfunction. “The misallocation of voting machines led to unprecedented long lines that disenfranchised scores, if not hundreds of thousands, of predominantly minority and Democratic voters,” found a post-election report by Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee. According to one survey, 174,000 Ohioans, 3 percent of the electorate, left their polling place without voting because of massive lines in urban precincts and on college campuses. Ohio’s Secretary of State that year was Ken Blackwell, co-chairman of the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign.
The election is twenty-eight days away and Ohio voters still can’t vote during the most convenient times before Election Day—on nights, weekends or the weekend before the election. The prospect of the Supreme Court’s getting involved will add further confusion. Rick Hasen, an elections expert at the UC-Irvine School of Law and the author ofThe Voting Wars, says the Court may be reluctant to intervene so close to the election, but “if they do take it, I think they would reverse [the lower court].” The Supreme Court intervening on behalf of Republicans to decide a presidential election in a critical battleground state? Sadly it’s happened before.
Back to the original question. Why is the race so close? Because we are not simply weighing two candidates against each other. We are also battling voter suppression efforts in the battleground states, a barrage of advertising, mailers and dishonest behavior, and a candidate who lies every time he opens his mouth and speaks to voters.
Everyone who is engaged in this race on any level should not only be planning to vote, but also getting out the vote. Canvassing neighborhoods, phonebanking, and even just talking to neighbors is the best way to make sure the result isn't close at all.