Obama vs Romney Polls: The Reason Obama is Leading in the Polls is Not Because of His Vision or Policies

These days it seems that you can’t open a newspaper — or a new window in Google Chrome — without reading something about the newest breaking poll. It’s confusing to read that Obama is up in Michigan by 3 points one day, only to pull ahead by 10 points a few days later. Should we simply discount the evidence of polls that show a drastic change, or can a large, rapid shift be explained by behind-the-scenes changes?

I believe that in this case, Obama’s rapid surge in Michigan can be explained by several factors working in tandem. This first is not state-specific, but rather phenomenon that swept the country: both major parties’ national conventions. The DNC held their convention in Charlotte, N.C., only last week. EPIC-MRA’s poll was one of the first to be released after the convention and thus it can help us measure and understand the effect that a large convention has. The combination of increased news coverage and specifically favorable press on the candidate during a convention results in something called a convention bump. This spike in a candidate’s polling data is to be expected in most states after the conventions. Whether conventions actually sway undecided voters, or more likely alert lukewarm supporters that things for the election are gearing up, they produce predictable spikes in polls that statisticians have learned to account for. Only time will tell whether Obama’s increased lead after his party’s convention will hold in Michigan.

The convention provides a convenient explanation to write off Obama’s increased lead in Michigan, but does it explain the whole story? There are also some things specific to Michigan that could be working in Obama’s favor. Only days after the Democratic National Convention, the Super PAC Restore Our Future made the decision to stop spending in Michigan, as well as several other battle ground states. Analysts were quick to speculate that this move indicates that the Romney campaign is conceding Michigan. While such a hypothesis is likely too broad, it is fair to say that they believe Michigan is not worth the effort it would take to win. This begets the question: what came first? Obama’s increase in support or the decision to stop running attack ads against him?

We may see the answer to this conundrum in the coming weeks in Michigan as the Romney and Obama campaigns continue to work in Michigan. While his Super PAC has left this state, Romney’s campaign has vowed to continue fighting in Michigan. This can be seen as a positive sign for Republicans, indicating that they still hold some hope of winning Michigan. However, there is also a convincing case to be made that the political costs of leaving Michigan are too high for Mitt Romney. The candidate is originally from Michigan, his father was a very popular governor, and he holds almost no hope of winning Massachusetts where Mitt himself was governor. In the coming weeks we will see continued fighting over Michigan’s 16 electoral votes. It is difficult to say what caused Obama’s surge in the state, but soon voters will see whether he can hold on to this lead and continue Michigan’s 20 year trend of Democratic votes in presidential elections. 

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Sonja Karnovsky

Sonja is currently a junior at the University of Michigan studying political science, environmental science, and Spanish. She has been co-director of the of the Center on Economic Policy at the Roosevelt Institute last year and plans to continue in this role. Additionally, she will be co-president of the U-M chapter of the Roosevelt Campus Network during the upcoming year. She is also a member of the executive board for the Michigan Political Union, a group focused on facilitating nonpartisan debate on a variety of topics. Sonja is involved with student organizations on campus interested in engaging students in political thought and activism.

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