Conventional wisdom, for much of the presidential race, has put the Obama-Romney contest as pretty much even, and the political press has been reluctant to name either candidate the favorite. Sure, the economy’s bad-—but voters don’t necessarily blame Obama for that. Sure, Romney’s base is more motivated—but the electoral map appears to favor Obama. It all adds up, most political reporters have said, to a “dead heat.”
Until the past two weeks, that is, as the race has broken decisively the president’s way. Romney didn’t get a convention bounce, and Obama did. A bad jobs report earlier this month failed to significantly hurt the president, while voters seemed to react more negatively to Mitt Romney’s comments about the assassination of the ambassador to Libya than they did to the president’s handling of the embassy riots.
We haven’t seen polling yet following the surfacing of Romney’s dismissal of 47 percent of the electorate, but as it may have been the most tone-deaf statement by a presidential nominee in history, I’ve got a feeling it’s not going to be good for the challenger.
We have news stories with anonymous Romney campaign staffers bashing one another, a frequent feature of losing presidential campaigns. And we have parts of conservative media dropping their veneer of confidence and openly panicking. See this Fox News video in which Pat Caddell and Doug Schoen—two “Fox News Democrat” pollsters who less than a year ago were writing op-eds urging Obama to drop out of the race in favor of Hillary Clinton—are in full panic that Romney’s going to blow it.
Are the polls accurate? They can certainly be spun—indeed, a popular Drudge Report tactic during the final days of the 2008 campaign was to take each day’s national tracking polls, find the one poll most favorable to John McCain, and run the blaring headline “SHOCK POLL! McCain Down by Only 2 points!”
But when it comes to polls, there’s one place I trust: Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight site, now hosted by The New York Times. Silver—no relation to this author—developed a sophisticated model for predicting elections, which takes into account polling data and gives weight to historical averages for each individual poll. Silver’s model projected the 2008 race with shocking accuracy, successfully forecasting the winner of 49 of the 50 states.
As of Tuesday Silver’s forecast gives Obama a 74.8 percent chance of winning the election—and a 92.9 percent chance of winning Pennsylvania—and that was before the Voter ID ruling Tuesday afternoon. It’s also worth noting that, since Silver began running the model in early June, Obama has never trailed.
No, it’s not over, and a lot could happen in the next seven weeks. There could be a European economic meltdown, Israel and Iran could go to war, or Obama could fall and crack his head open during one of the presidential debates. But it’s really looking increasingly likely that President Obama is going to win a second term. And if he does, how will Republicans—the ones who have been calling Obama’s defeat their highest priority, and wondering if the nation can survive a second term—react? Here are some possibilities:
• Blame Mitt Romney. No matter how Romney runs the rest of the way, if he loses, we’re going to hear that it was because he wasn’t conservative enough, and didn’t fight hard enough. It’s likely that Romney’s campaign ineptitude, as well as his very Mitt Romney-ness, will have contributed. Then again, would Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich or Michele Bachmann have been a better general election candidate?
• Blame the liberal media. It used to be, conservatives believed that the media was biased towards liberals. But now they believe something else: that liberal media bias is the cause of absolutely everything that happens in politics. It’s why Obama won the first time, so I’m guess it’ll be why he’s winning this time, too. It’s like the Theory of Everything. What it doesn’t explain is how Republicans ever win any elections anywhere.
• Blame “voter fraud.” The supposed Democratic penchant for mass voter fraud has been a big part of Republican talking points all year, so if the race is even a little bit close, we’re going to hear that Obama’s victory was illegitimate for that reason.
• Blame the moochers and the looters who voted for Obama. In the event of a comfortable Obama win, I feel like the right’s response, in terms of contempt for those who voted for the president, will make the left’s reaction to Bush’s re-election in 2004 look like nothing. And Mitt Romney’s unfortunate and bogus theory—that the 47 percent of Americans who pay no income taxes are essentially bribed by their government benefits into voting Democratic—will harden into GOP conventional wisdom.
Most likely, it will be “all of the above.”