Monday, November 5, 2012

GOP12 electoral prediction

Here's how I think each swing state will swing tomorrow, as well as my final electoral prediction.

I've included the RCP average for each swing state, so you can see if my prediction is bold and brave or conventional and safe. Then at the bottom, I submit the final tally.

Let's get started....

NEVADA (Obama +2.8% RCP average): For the better part of a week, Republicans have privately worried they were on their way to losing the state, and everything about the early vote indicates those concerns are well-founded (Nevada's resident political guru, Jon Ralson, has been obsessing over early voting figures and predicts a 4% Obama win).

Yes, Republicans are doing better than 2008 when McCain lost by 12.5%, but Obama has tons of breathing room.

Nevada was always going to be rough for Romney, and his awful performance with Hispanics hurts him particularly badly here.

Winner: Obama.

COLORADO (Obama +0.6% in RCP average): This will be close, but Romney has some big advantages in the state.

GOP registration edges out Democratic registration, which means Obama needs knockout numbers with independents. Only problem? He's struggled all year with Colorado independents and, even when indies have split, Obama's approval with the group generally remains low.

Two months ago, I broke down the state's most important counties by demographics, voting patterns, recent elections etc., and concluded Romney would win, and nothing has changed to change my mind.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, polls are close, but Colorado Republicans are simply too motivated and independents too sour on Obama for the president to pull this one out.

Winner: Romney.

IOWA (Obama +2.4% in RCP average): The early voting numbers are abstruse and complicated by the fact Obama won the state by 10% in 2008, and so comparisons don't mean too much. Yes, Republicans are doing better, but how much better? Have they cannibalized too many election day voters?

We just don't know.

The papers have all endorsed Romney and the polls have been mildly favorable to Obama but certainly within the margin of error.

The big tiebreaker is that state unemployment is low, and if Romney is going to become president, it will be thanks to the economy. Take that advantage away, and it's not clear how he wins. Yes, Iowans are awfully concerned about the debt, but in the end, Obama's incumbency + organization + unemployment rate should be enough to bring it home.

Winner: Obama.

WISCONSIN: (Obama +4.2% in RCP average): The GOP might think it's positioned for an upset here, but this is all you need to know --- Romney hasn't led in a single poll of the state since August.

We all know most polls understated support for Scott Walker in his recall election, but he did at least lead in a few of them, right?

Beyond the polls, this is another favorable dynamic for Dems -- a president whose approval rating has rebounded and now sits consistently above 50% in the state.

Traditionally blue state + Obama approval over 50% + No Romney lead since August = Obama win.

Winner: Obama.

FLORIDA (Romney +1.8% in RCP average). Outside of North Carolina, this is the strongest battleground for Romney.

You can read the Florida battleground guide I wrote July, and what was then true also holds true now -- it's highly unlikely that Obama can duplicate what he did in 2008 in 2012.

Let's consider what's happened.

2008 saw the peak of Obama's popularity, the depth of the GOP name, a completely depressed Republican base, and an opponent (John McCain) who ran an incompetent state-based campaign.

And Obama still just eeked out a 2.8% win in Florida.

What's happened since then?

A) Obama's popularity has fallen steeply B) the GOP name has rebounded C) Republicans have outregistered Democrats since 2008 D) Romney has run a terrific state-based campaign and sports an ideology and temperament perfectly-suited to the most important swing area in the state -- Tampa Bay, and more specifically, Hillsborough County.

Romney won't win Florida big, but the odds that he'll win are very big. In fact, Ohio will be much, much closer.

Winner: Romney.

PENNSYLVANIA (Obama +3.9% in RCP average): Obama has tied or led in every state poll since February, PA is a blue state with a registration advantage of 1 million for Democrats, and no Republican has won it since George H.W. Bush.

But here's why I think, strangely enough, Pennsylvania almost looks slightly better for Romney than Wisconsin -- Obama's job approval rating is worse in PA.

In fact, he sits at 46%/53% for -7% in Franklin & Marshall's most recent poll and at 48%/47% in a new Muhlenberg College/Morning Call poll. Those are awful numbers in a state with one million more registered Democrats than Republicans.

But that "one million more" number still exists, and -- coupled with the fact Obama hasn't trailed in the state since February -- you've gotta give Obama the advantage.

Winner: Obama.

VIRGINIA: (Obama +0.3% in RCP average): This is the only state where my gut and head differ. I won't try to explain my gut, because guts are difficult to explain, but for the record, this was my toughest call.

But once again, I'm trusting the battleground guide I wrote over summer and predicting an Obama win.


Demographics + State Economy + Organization.

First, Virginia's minority population is growing and Hispanics have completely changed the shape of big counties like Prince William in the north. Obama beat McCain by 16% in Prince William, and it was one of many Virginia counties that actually voted for Bob Dole in 1996, but went big for Obama in 2008. To me, that shift is indicative of a massive demographic change.

Second, the state's economy remains strong with an unemployment rate of just 5.9%. When you're looking for tiebreakers, numbers like that matter.

Third, Obama's organization is superb and he has breathing room. Even if he struggles a bit more this year, hey, he won the state by over 6% in 2008.

Having said that, I'm still conflicted about this pick since my gut and head are telling me different things. I do think that if Romney is looking like a winner in Virginia, it will essentially confirm he's won the first tiebreaker state, and the pattern that gives him Virginia could swing other states like Ohio his way.

Winner: Obama.

NORTH CAROLINA: (Romney +3% in RCP Average): North Carolina has been something of a polling Rorschach test for me all cycle. If a pollster puts Obama ahead in the state, that sends red flags about that pollster. If a pundit insists Obama is the favorite, I say "Okay, thanks for the chat, Stephanie Cutter."

Yes, Romney has spent a lot on the state, but that's just defense. He's never been in any sort of jeopardy. Sheer demographics will ensure the state is decided by less than 5%, but the perfect storm that gave Obama 0.30% win in 2008 won't come together this time.

Winner: Romney 

OHIO: (Obama +3.0% in RCP average): First, it's going to be closer than 3%. In fact, it will likely be 1% or less, but ultimately, I think the RCP average tells the direction of the state correctly and Obama will slip by.

What are the tiebreakers?

For Obama, it's the auto bailout, the drop in unemployment, an approval rating in the 50% region, terrific organization, and a vicious attack campaign that was also quite extraordinary effective.

For Romney, it's superior enthusiasm, a slightly better score on the economy, and the fact that the state remains slightly red in political temperament. Don't underestimate that last point. It absolutely matters that culturally and politically, this is still, just barely, a red state.

But it's also a state that remains leery of Romney, because to many, he fits the stereotype the Obama campaign has created. In the end, voters will probably go with the guy they know who gave them the bailout they love.

Winner: Obama.

NEW HAMPSHIRE (Obama +2% in RCP average): This state is overwhelmingly white, which helps Romney. Yes, New England whites are different from, let's say, whites in Florida, but New Hampshire is no ordinary New England state.

It's far more conservative and far more independent.

Here's what you need to know. According to the final WMUR poll, released today, Romney leads by 13% among independents, and this state is dominated by indies (they made up 45% of the electorate in 2008). If Romney can even score a 5% win with indies, he's got the state. Republicans have a registration edge in the state, so it's safe to say that if Romney wins indies, he'll win the state.

Romney has been doing better and better with whites, and Obama doesn't have a huge base of minority support he can count on in New Hampshire, nor does he have the emotional ties that a GM bailout can create.

I think, in the end, Romney wins New Hampshire by about 3%-4%, contrary to polls that have shown a small Obama lead.

Winner: Romney.


Obama 290

Romney 248

Final note: I'm one of the many who believe the race was fundamentally changed by Hurricane Sandy.

Ultimately, I don't think Romney's margins with independents will be strong enough in Virginia or Ohio. Before Sandy, Romney had an advantage on "leadership". That helped his numbers on everything else, and leadership is particularly important to independents and swing voters. So one week before the election, I would have given both Virginia and Ohio to Romney.

No more, though.