Friday, August 03, 2012

Election 2012: Let The Games Begin

A man who's legally blind, who can barely read the morning paper, has recently set a new world record in archery. Another man, born with no feet, is competing as a sprinter. For only the fifth time in history, a weightlifter has cleaned three times his own weight. I love the Olympics. You see the very best of humanity on display, and you see the barriers of the impossible pushed a little farther back each time. But, as awesome as those Games are, those aren't the ones I'm talking about today.

In just over three weeks, the Republican National Convention gets underway in Tampa, Florida. In just about a month, the Democratic National Convention kicks off in Charlotte, North Carolina. And in 95 days, just over three months, we go to the polls to elect the next President of the United States.

The so-called "Silly Season" is just about over. The fall campaign is about to commence for real. Ladies and gentlemen, it's on like Donkey Kong.

As always, our numbers come courtesy of Intrade, from Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight, and from Pollster.

From Intrade:

Barack Obama (D) 57.8%, 287 EV (+1.9%, +/- 0 EV)
Mitt Romney (R) 39.8%, 250 EV (-1.2%, -9 EV)

From FiveThirtyEight:

Barack Obama (D) 71.1%, 299.6 EV (+2.8%, +/- 0 EV)
Mitt Romney (R) 28.9%, 238.4 EV (-2.8%, +/- 0 EV)

From Pollster:

Strong D: 191 (-30)
Lean D: 99 (+80)
Tossup: 57 (-50)
Lean R: 0 (-10)
Strong R: 191 (+10)

General Impressions: Pollster tells a fascinating story here. Obama and Romney have exactly the same amount of "strong" support in the Electoral College, but Obama has a ton more "leaning" states. Romney has none. That's an interesting point -- Romney goes straight from "strong" to "toss-up", with no states leaning in his direction. I don't know what that means yet. One thing it could mean is that the Bain attacks, and the mess with the tax returns, seems to be getting some traction. But it also shows a vulnerability in the Obama camp, his "strong" support has softened considerably since the last time we looked at the figures. One way to read this is that Romney has firmed up his soft support, while Obama's firm support has slipped. But, how does that scan when stacked up to the fact that the tossups seem to have broken all one way?

It's a confusing picture, but a very interesting one. It may well be that the people who like Romney really like him, but there's an awfully wide canyon between that and the undecideds.

I'm also curious as to the reason between the wide gulf between Intrade's percentages and Nate Silver's. Mind you, they both predict the same result. But the gambling public is giving Romney more love than the pollsters are, just right now. It'll be curious to see how closely these two sets of data converge, as we get closer to the big day. And, it'll be very interesting to see what the overnight trade volume does, the night before Election Day.

What Obama Must Do: His "You Didn't Build That" remark was a huge unforced error. He can't afford too many of those. The economic recovery is still very weak. Unemployment is still fairly high. The relatively good news is that gas prices aren't sky-high, and home prices seem to have bottomed out, and are on the rise again. What he needs to do at this point is sell the idea that he's on the side of the middle class, and also sell an agenda for sustainable economic growth. At the same time, he also has to convince the public that the Republicans either can't or won't do a better job. He's got a considerable advantage, even with the relatively soft economy. But the race is going to tighten, depending on how Romney plays the next three weeks.

What Romney Must Do: Diplomacy, not to put too fine a point on it, isn't his strong suit. Fortunately for him, though, the election isn't being held in London. Irritating foreigners not only isn't something that's likely to offend his base, it's liable to be something that endears him to his base. Which is helpful, since Romney is still running for the whole-hearted support of the hard right. If I were one of his advisers, the Pollster data above would be very troubling to me. With his "strong" and "leaning" support, Obama has enough EVs to win re-election. Romney simply must run the table in the toss-up states, and pull at least 21 EVs of Obama's current support. That may well be doable. Hell, it is doable. But it's going to be hard sledding for this particular candidate, who isn't overly blessed with warmth. I'm not saying he's a bad man, but he's got a fairly stiff public demeanor. For all his faults, George Bush was someone a lot of people could have a backyard BBQ with. But Romney looks more like the guy who just fired you. That's when he's not looking like a collaboration between the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab and Disney's Animatronics. And I'm not sure we've seen the real Mitt Romney stand up yet. But in three weeks' time, we'll get an unparalleled glimpse into his thought processes. As I've said before, the VP selection will speak volumes for the man's judgement, and how he goes about making decisions.

The VP pick is absolutely vital for Romney. His best option is someone personable, who's also palatable to the centrist voters out there. But he may feel stampeded into going hard-right, to cement the support of his base. If he does the former, we'll have a real race on our hands. If the latter, he's probably toast.

And The Winner Is... Intrade is back to giving 3-2 odds in favor of re-election. Nate Silver's numbers work out to 7-3 in favor, just shy of 2-1, but as I said last time, I'm not comfortable jumping into 2-1 territory yet. I want to see how the conventions go, and how the economy's shaking out come Labor Day.

Remember, vote early, and vote often!

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