Since the first presidential debate on October 3, there has been nothing predictable about the polling numbers. During this time period, Ed Goeas, a Republican pollster, believes Romney's strong debate performance and increased TV spending in the swing states has "erased the months of negative advertising" by the Obama campaign.
Television viewers are now inundated with political messages. The candidates have spent more than $300 million each on television advertising, with over 81% spent on negative ads. More than $350 million has been spent just in Florida, Virginia, and Ohio.
In the new POLITICO/George Washington University Battleground Poll of likely voters (October 7-12, before the vice presidential debate), Romney leads Obama 49% to 48%. The poll measured a number of things that are of concern to voters. Some of the more interesting findings of this poll include:
The likely voter percent has stayed about the same for the last month but Romney's likability measure shows 51% view him favorably "as a person" and 44% unfavorably. In September, 49% viewed him unfavorably and 47% favorably going into the October 3 debate. Three-fourths of the voters who said they watched the first debate or saw coverage said Romney was the winner; 16% chose Obama. Obama still holds the lead over Romney with women, 54% to 43%; while 46% of women have a positive impression of Romney, 48% have an unfavorable impression. Romney leads Obama with men who have a 54 % favorable impression to 43% unfavorable impression. Obama's job approval rating is 50%, disapproval 48%. While 48% approve of the president's handling of foreign policy, 46% disapprove. More respondents now strongly disapprove of the president's handling of events oversees than strongly approve. Goeas credits "the Libya situation" with reducing Obama's edge on foreign policy. The Libyan terrorist attack occurred September 11. Controversy began brewing about a week later and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held its widely-publicized hearing on October 10. The 0.3% change in the unemployment rate from 8.2 % to 7.9% had little change in the disapproval rating of Obama's handling of the economy, 51%. Romney leads by 3% on handling the economy and 2% on "who can create more jobs?" Voters disapprove of Obama's handling of the federal budget and spending by a margin of 16 percentage points, 56 percent to 40 percent.
It appears most of the polls are showing gains by Romney, some more than other. The Real Clear Politics Average of several national polls has the candidates virtually even with Obama carrying 47.1% and Romney 47%. Perhaps most telling of the polls included is that only one shows either candidate carrying more than half of the votes and that is the Gallup Poll giving Romney 51%.
The Latest Polling Data From Real Clear Politics
Obama Romney Spread
10/7010/19 47.1% 47.0% Obama +0.1
10/17-10/19 (1,500, margin of error = 3.0) 48% 49% Romney +1
10/13-10/19 (2,700, margin of error = 2.0) 45% 51% Romney +6
10/14-10/19 (938, margin of error = 3.5) 47% 44% Obama +3
10/11-10/16 (1023, margin of error =3.0) 48% 45% Obama +3
10/10-10/13 (923, margin of error = 3.5) 49% 46% Obama +3
10/7-10/11 (1000, margin of error =3.1) 49% 48% Obama +1
10/8-10/10 (1360, margin of error =2.7) 46% 47% Romney +1
10/7-10/9 (1109, margin of error =3.0) 45% 46% Romney +1
Who's going to win ... by the numbers.
It all comes down to the electoral college. It takes 270 of the 538 total Electoral College votes to win. Charlie Cook a political pundit and insider, writing in the National Journal, reminded me that in 53 of 56 presidential elections, the popular and electoral vote have gone the same direction, and conditions in this election appear to mean a race to the wire and possible split of those votes. Cook is watching Ohio closely, with a small number of swing states. "In the end," he says, "the odds still favor the popular and electoral vote heading in the same direction, but the chances of a split like the one in 2000 are very real, along with the distinct possibility of ambiguity and vote-counting issues once again putting the outcome in question."
I looked at four sources that name toss-up races (the swing states) and likely electoral votes. The results were varied. Suffice to say that fewer than 10 states will decide the outcome, and it is going to be close!
Toss-up 36 4 states
Colorado (9), Wisconsin (10), New Hampshire (4), and Virginia (13)
Toss-up/leaning 95 8 states
Florida (29), Ohio (18), Virginia (13), Wisconsin (10), Iowa (6), Colorado (9), Nevada (6), and New Hampshire (4)
Toss-up/leaning 110 8 states
Colorado (9), Iowa (6), Nevada (6), Ohio (18), Florida (29), North Carolina (15), Virginia (13), and New Hampshire (4)
Toss-up 131 10 states
Colorado (9), Florida (29), Iowa (), Michigan (16), Nevada (6), New Hampshire (4), Ohio (18), Pennsylvania (20), Virginia (13), and Wisconsin (10)
It's a good bet that the battleground states will continue to see more television advertising leading up to election day. With one more presidential debate coming up on Monday (from Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, moderated by Bob Schieffer), we may see the polls shift again as undecided voters move into one camp or another based on answers to foreign policy questions.
The Pew Research Center, in recent polling (October 4-7), found that 54% of Americans continue to say it is more important to have stable governments in the Middle East, even if there is less democracy in the region. Fifty-six percent say it is more important to take a "firm stand" against Iran's nuclear program, while 35% say it is more important to avoid conflict. Sixty-three percent say they think the US should be less involved with changes of leadership in the Middle East, compared with 23% who say the US should be more involved. In a separate survey from October 12-14, 38% disapprove of the Obama administration's handling of the terrorist attack in Benghazi, while 35% approve. The survey found large partisan differences regarding details of the Libya situation. For example, 41% of Republicans say they heard a lot about incorrect statements by the administration about protests outside the embassy when the attacks occurred, compared with 17% of Democrats and 28% of Independents. Of those who haven't made up their minds at this point, the foreign policy answers by the candidates may help them decide.
It appears that election day may be a long one, and that, at least in the battleground states, voter turnout and will be carefully watched and those waiting for an answer before bedtime may be awake into the wee hours of the morning and beyond.