Obama’s to lose?

Nate Cohn makes the persuasive empirical case that the most recent polling evidence indicates that Obama should be considered a heavy favorite right now.  Hard to argue with all the data and information he brings to bear.  To wit:

While Obama’s 4-point lead is very modest by historic standard, it’s larger than it sounds. Only a sliver of voters are remain undecided and Obama holds approximately 49 percent of the vote, suggesting that Romney will need to fair exceptionally well among the remaining undecided voters and then further count on either low-Democratic turnout or Obama supporters switching sides. All of these scenarios are possible; none are likely. Obama is a well-known incumbent president and voters have hardened impression of his performance, as demonstrated by the stability of the race and his resilience in states where he faced months of uncontested advertisements, like Michigan, Minnesota, or New Mexico. Battleground state voters have already heard a whole presidential campaign’s worth of advertisements, suggesting that a deluge of late spending is unlikely to change the outcome. The possibility of a late swing is further reduced by the rise of early voting, as nearly one-third of voters are expected to cast ballots before Election Day…

Every candidate with a clear lead in the late September polls has won the popular vote in the last fifteen presidential elections since 1948…

To win, Romney will need to mount an unprecedented comeback against an incumbent president. Such a comeback is not impossible, but history suggests it’s improbable and factors specific to this campaign make it seem even less likely. Obama has held a narrow lead since Romney secured the nomination, despite a cavalcade of purported game-changers ranging from gay marriage and Paul Ryan to the pseudo-DREAM Act and the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act. This has been an eventful campaign, but few events, including the recent spasm of violence in the Middle East, have influenced the trajectory of the race. If none of the plausible game-changers changed the game, what can?

Here’s the short of it:

The history of presidential elections suggests that a generic incumbent president leading by four points with 49 percent of the vote in late September probably has a 80-85 percent chance of victory, before factoring in the accuracy (or inaccuracy) of modern polling…

But this is not just an abstract race. 2012 could go down as the most stable election of the close races in presidential history, suggesting that late movement is unusually unlikely with a polarized electorate harboring well-defined views of an incumbent president. And Romney isn’t a generic challenger. According to Pew Research, Romney is the only major party candidate with a net-unfavorable rating in (at least) the last twenty-four years. Other polls tell a somewhat rosier story, but Romney’s ratings are beneath those of most—if not all—modern candidates who have gone onto win the presidency. Romney’s weaknesses seriously impair his odds of a comeback.

Obama’s currently at $.70 on intrade.  Seems like anything less than $.80 at this point is a good buy.  And, of course, you’ll hear all sorts of reasons that Romney is going to come back– and he may– but as Cohn demonstrates, history is decidedly not on his side.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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