For months, America’s political polls have contended the 2012 presidential race between President Obama and former Governor Romney largely remained a statistical tie. Today, the very assumptions upon which those polls were developed are in question. We all have heard, “when you assume you make an ass out of you and me.” The devastation caused by Frankenstorm Sandy could well prove the truth of that adage changing the course of this presidential election.
Polling assumptions for the 2012 presidential race were based on voter turnout representative of recent elections. Additionally, trending analysis skewed general participation rates among demographic groups focusing on most likely voters reflecting the preferences based on gender, age, educational level and racial composition.
The multi-state impact of Sandy appears likely to have significantly altered what actual voter participation will be throughout at least a sub-section of the Northeast stretching from West Virginia to our coastal borders as far south as North Carolina and Connecticut.
In 2008, President Obama won the vast majority of the states affected by Sandy including North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware. While it is very unlikely the president’s lead in all of these states will suddenly disappear, voter participation among the millions beginning to recover from this natural disaster could very well reverse the results of even the most recent polls.
The potential is further enhanced by Gallup’s most recent survey on early voting. On Monday, October 29th, Gallup reported that more Republicans than Democrats have already voted by a margin of 19% to 15 %. “When those who intend to vote before Election Day are factored in, the gap is similar: 37% of Republicans vs. 33% of Democrats,” according to the polling organization.
Romney currently leads Obama 52% to 45% among voters who say they have already cast their ballots, Gallup reported. That margin is comparable to Romney's 51% to 46% lead among all likely voters in Gallup's Oct. 22-28 tracking polling."
Moreover, Gallup found that 15% of registered voters nationwide have already cast their ballots in this year's election. But that projection was based on 130 million Americans voting, an estimate which could be overstating turnout by 5 to 10 million due to the fallout from Sandy’s devastation.
While all political eyes have been on the swing state of Ohio, this election could end up turning on the low voter turnout throughout the area most affected by Sandy’s devastation. It is very easy to forget Democrat stronghold New Jersey casts 15 electoral college votes. While the state's 2 million residents currently without power should have their lights back on by Election Day, the likelihood of 3.9 million votes will be cast is improbable.
Early analysis of the wide-spread damage in New Jersey shows Sandy spared no demographic. While high-end beach front property was destroyed, as usual the poor and the elderly living nearest the reaches of coastal flooding were among the hardest hit. Portions of Atlantic City blocks from the board walk look more like staging areas for an action film than residential neighborhoods. A 10% to 15% reduction in voter turnout could put a solidly blue state back into play although still likely to trend in the president’s favor.
The second largest base for Democrat support nationwide, New York, faces voting obstacles never experienced previously. New York is not known for voter turnout to begin with. It is ironic that in one of the nation’s largest states, only 7.6 million voters participated in the 2008 election (roughly 2/3’s of the population of New York city). The city that never sleeps, accounted for the majority of the states, 2 million voter margin of victory for President Obama in 2008. How fast and how effectively, New York gets its power grid and transit system back will be a major factor in voter turnout.
While Pennsylvania generally dodged the impact of Sandy’s destructive path, economic conditions relating to activity surrounding the Keystone State could suppress voter turnout as residents address support needs for their neighbors. Additionally, overcoming the downturn in participation shown in the 2010 election throughout the greater Philadelphia area continues to put in question the validity of most polling models.
Delaware, Rhode Island and Connecticut with 14 total electoral votes were all victories claimed by President Obama in 2008. Yet, in Delaware and Rhode Island basically 150,000 votes sealed the victory or roughly twice the number of people who watch a Giants or Jets game live on any given Sunday.
Nobody knows, how greatly will Sandy’s destruction affect the 2012 presidential election. What we do know is, for millions if not tens of millions of Americans, voting is going to take a greater effort than anyone anticipated only a few days ago.
Please consider lending whatever aide you can to those attempting to recover from the devastation of Sandy. If nothing else, if you can please be willing to lend your assistance to those who might need it allowing them to vote next Tuesday.