Here we are on the eve of the election and, like so many recent presidential elections, we are gathered around, watching a handful of swing states that hold the future of the presidency in their collective hands. Though the polls make this race look too close to call, I'm going to call it: Romney wins.
Collective wisdom suggests that a president with as high of disapproval ratings as President Obama should not be able to win reelection, nevertheless, that collective wisdom also anointed John Kerry as President No. 44 back in 2004. So, while the “fundamentals” have looked like they leaned towards any Generic Republican that ran this year, I am not confident in that as a predictor by itself.
What is more telling is that the familiar tightening of the race that has occurred in the polls over the last week leaves the president in a very vulnerable looking position despite his disaster relief efforts that should have helped shore up his support. If anything, much of the gain that the president appears to have nabbed in the last few days seems more likely to be the result of the last minute undecided voters finally deciding combined with a dash of debate afterglow from the third presidential debate.
States such as Pennsylvania continue to tighten up in the challenger's favor, however, because the president has not been gaining so much as the environment of the race has been solidifying. Even if Pennsylvania is still leaning slightly to the Blue side, it is notable that it appears less Blue day over day and week over week. While polls have not shown Governor Romney gaining a breakout lead in the state, we should probably assume most polls in this election cycle undervalue the governor's position.
Perhaps the term “enthusiasm” is this year's “lockbox,” but there is something to the hype. In 2008, the president did better than many of the polls forecast because of enthusiasm. While Republicans were not exactly excited about John McCain, Democrats, Independents and even some Republicans who write for Open for Business were excited about then-Sen. Obama. Hence, Obama not only won, but he won decisively, because many Republican voters simply didn't vote.
This year, the difference is palpable. If you walk across a college campus, the Obama buzz is absent from the air. Though Obama continues to lead substantially in polls amongst the college age demographic that helped put him over the top last time, every indicator suggests that fewer of those Obama supporting students will actually be bothered to show up at the polls and vote.
Missouri congressman Todd Akin's troubled run for the senate can help demonstrate the real impact of excitement. Though his campaign has been marooned in a weird netherworld composed of a 30 second sound bite, his was the Little Campaign that Could during the primaries. While polls suggested he would likely land at the bottom of the heap, he handily trounced the two favored Republican contenders. He has done this more than once in his campaign history. What put him over the top each time? Akin has cultivated a very loyal, dedicated, excited base that reliably shows up at the polls and votes for him.
The anomaly of higher than expected turnout (or lower than expected turnout) can turn a pollster's predictions on their statistical heads. Akin, for his part, may still win simply because of this little matter, though admittedly even with his loyalists, it is a stretch this time. But, Romney is in a different place: he has excitement on his side without Akin-esque baggage eating away at it simultaneously.
Thus, when we look at states such as Pennsylvania or Michigan, while Obama may appear to even have a slight lead, we should expect that the turnout for the governor will be higher than that of the president. And that spells trouble for the president: he simply does not have enough of a lead in any of the critical states to make up for his excitement deficit.
To be sure, the race is going to be close and I would be unsurprised if we must wait weeks for recounts. But, when the final numbers come in, do not be shocked if it is 321-217 in Romney's favor. Not because the president has vastly fewer supporters than the governor, but because he has significantly fewer motivated ones.
Welcome to 2008 in reverse. See you on the other side.
Timothy R. Butler is Editor-in-Chief of Open for Business.