The conventions are over and the election is less than two months away. That can only mean one thing – voters in Florida and Ohio would be better off not watching any teevee. Who is likely to win? The race is shaping up to be Obama’s to lose, although it’s unclear how the US House or other key races will come out.
It’s time to make a few predictions as to how it will go – and what we should be watching for. That way you can make fun of me later. Here are what I consider to be the key points. Ready?
The Enthusiasm Gap – No matter what the polls say, what counts on Election Day is who shows up. Identifying “likely voters” is the hard part of any poll, and this year it may be especially difficult. The Democrats had a convention that may well energize their base to greater turnout than the Republicans managed to have. This, combined with a few polls showing Romney slipping, might make all the difference in who turns out. But this gap is nearly impossible to judge, so there will not be good numbers to judge it. You have to feel it. But it’s worth watching all the same. What should we look for? Crowd sizes, bumperstickers, and lawn signs. This one will be heavily anecdotal.
The Gender Gap – as noted here before, if there really is a 15 point gap for Obama among women, there must be a corresponding double-digit gap for Romney among men. That’s finally being discussed, but it’s still a very strange artifact. Women do tend to show up more than men and they are more likely to be enthusiastic for Obama, given the high profile gaffs that have plagued Republicans this year. What should we look for? Another stupid statement on women would ice this for Obama, but watch for appeals by Romney to energize his macho base. This might be really weird by the end.
The Swing States – Polls always have to be read with extreme caution, but the latest polls showing an outside-the-margin lead by Obama in Virginia, Florida, and Ohio may be the beginning of the end. Ohio, especially, is very important as an indicator as to how things will go as it gets its biennial lame and pointless attention from candidates who don’t actually solve their problems. What should we look for? If Romney starts to spend heavily in Virginia, it’s over. Both candidates should spend insane gobs of time in Ohio, so polls there will be about the only thing that really matters.
The Blame Gap – It’s the obvious question – are you better off now than you were four years ago? A resounding “NO!” might seem like a big “duh!” to just about anyone, myself included. But a recent poll show that Americans are closer than you might think, favoring “no” by a scant 44/37. More interestingly, the same poll asked who people blame, and by a wide 54/38 among likely voters that fell on Bush and the Republicans. If that holds the election is over now. What should we look for? Democrats will likely feature Bill Clinton and those amazin’ numbers he used in his convention speech. Republicans will probably hammer the obvious question, but if they drop it they must know it’s backfiring.
Something Stupid – Obama ran a nearly flawless campaign in 2008, and so far he’s done almost as well. The big chance for Romney to make up ground will require a big gaff by Obama, so this is the key to any change in momentum. What should we look for? You’ll know it if it happens.
Outside of the Presidential race, the generic congressional ballot is the thing to watch. This is where voters are asked if they will vote for a Democrat or a Republican in congress. It’s more or less even now, but if this widens it means the Blame Gap is starting to sink in. An Obama re-election combined with the Republicans holding the House is more or less a complete stalemate that means four more years of not much of anything. It’s still the most likely outcome. In other words, for all the money and airtime and hoopla, we’re still pretty much screwed.
Then again, whoever wins this race is likely to look like a genius if things keep turning around on a slow pace by 2017. This post, and all the ones like it, might look very strange at best. What’s your call?