Presidential Polls 2012: Race is a Statistical Tie and It Will Be Until Election Day

As the second presidential debate approaches, Republican challenger Mitt Romney has a slight lead in the polls. This the continuation of a trend that started right after his strong performance in October 3 first match up with President Obama.  

In Rasmussen Gallup, and Real Clear Politics polls Romney holds a lead among likely voters by a couple of percentage points. This makes the race a statistical tie. In the highly coveted swing states, Romney has made quite a turnaround since a few weeks ago but Obama still has an Electoral College advantage. Essentially, the polls tell us that this is a tight race so each candidate is being very careful not to fumble.

For all of the hoopla, the debate it's unlikely to drastically change the race. According to Rasmussen, 2% of voters are still undecided. With a margin of error usually around 2% (sometimes even more for polls with a smaller sample size) even if all the undecided voters decided, based on this upcoming debate, we still would not really know who is “winning.” That being said, the media narrative of a post-debate bounce is something the candidates are sure to be striving for just as much as an actual post-debate bounce.

With Romney’s strong bounce after the last debate there probably is not much more room for him to improve. If he hasn’t convinced people with his “historic debate performance” then those people are probably beyond convincing. Romney’s base has been re-energized, he is on an even keel with the president, and he made the “comeback” the media was longing for. Obama on the other hand must use this debate to restore his base's faith in him, cast Romney as an untrustable flip-flopper, and recast himself as the voice of the middle class.

Obama is in the position of needing to turn the tide from Romney’s favor. Romney is in the position of attempting to continue the current trend. If either of them is successful the polls will not change dramatically and the race will stay a statistical dead heat. However, if Obama gives another terrible performance the public really may come away with the impression that he just doesn’t really want to be president anymore. They may very well think he is not in the mood to fight for them anymore and in turn may decide not to fight for him. That’s the one way this debate could really affect the polls: If Obama gives a repeat performance.