We’re forty-four days until the end of the election and some early voting (overseas and military) is ready to begin this week. The first poll to show Obama was opening a lead in Ohio after the DNC Convention was Public Policy Polling, but it was dismissed by some on the right as a Democratic poll that was merely seeing a post-DNC Convention Obama bounce. Then came another and another.
Just as we said with the Mandel “surge,” it’s more accurate to look at the trendlines within polling outfits as the poll a race over time than to compare what one poll says to another and suggests that is a trendline.
The Ohio Poll conducted by the University of Cincinnati has long been considered the “gold standard” of public opinion polling in Ohio. Although its sample size is much smaller this cycle than other polls, and it appears to be undersampling independents and African-American voters to the benefit of oversampling Republicans as a result, it still remains a widely respected poll in Ohio from both sides of the political aisle.
Before the conventions, the U.C. Ohio Poll showed the race at 49% Obama to 46% for Romney. A three-point advantage for Obama, but still under 50% and well within the poll’s 3.4% margin of error. Today, the University of Cincinnati Poll, on behalf of virtually every major newspaper in Ohio, issued its first likely voter poll after the conventions (it was taken a week after the DNC convention). It shows Obama’s lead has grown to 51% to Romney’s stagnant 46%. So, here we have the case where the incumbent is polling over 50% and has a sizeable lead over his opponent with 44 days left. Even more important, Obama leads by five points on which candidate likely voters believe will do better in handling the economy.
Here’s how the major newspapers in Ohio characterized it:
- Cincinnati Enquirer: “Divided state still a toss-up”
- The Columbus Dispatch headlined the economy as the top issue and noted that the U.C. pollster noted that “voters may be in for a wild ride this fall.”
- The Cleveland Plain Dealer actually headlined that Obama leads Romney in the poll, which would not be remarkable except the first two papers mentioned above downplayed it in their headlines. The PD also did something the first two papers did not: mention the other recent Ohio polls showing Obama leading.
- The Toledo Blade split the difference, and went with a headline like the Dispatch‘s, but then mentioned in the subheading that Obama led in the poll.
- The Akron Beacon Journal also headlined that Obama was leading in the poll, and did not characterize it as showing the race as a “tossup.”
The notion that the race is a “tossup” and we “may be in for a wild ride” is technically true because even at five-points, it’s still within the outer range of the margin of error of +/- 3.4%. However, that’s stretching the likelihood of the margin of error a bit. Under the Enquirer‘s standard, that means that any poll where there’s not at least a seven-point advantage is a dead heat. When the polls showed the difference between the two candidates as being within the 3.4 margin of error, then statistically there was a strong possibility that either candidate is ahead. But when that margin hits 5, the statistically likelihood that Romney is tied or actually ahead is rather insignificant.
Furthermore, let’s look at the RealClearPolitics chart of the aggregate polling data of the race in Ohio:
We’re not in for a “wild ride.” Historically speaking, incumbents this close to election polling 50% or better virtually always win. In fact, Obama is polling better now than he was at this point in 2008 in Ohio. He’s actually polling at about the same margins he won the State in 2008, too. Something else every newspaper in Ohio failed to point out.
And then there’s this other takeaway. Only 2% of the electorate is undecided. There’s nobody left to persuade. Chances are those 2% undecided voters simply won’t vote. To win, Romney has to change voters minds in Ohio in a matter of weeks.
Mitt Romney is essentially toast. If millions of third-party ads on the economy hasn’t torn Obama down enough to give Romney an advantage on the issue in Ohio, then I don’t think millions more will somehow hit the tipping point. Far more likey, Ohio voters are numb to the ads on television anyways by now. The electoral map is such that Romney cannot win without Ohio (and he’s losing), and he could still lose even if it winds up beating the odds and winning Ohio anyways.