Can Obama Cruise to Victory?

Just before the Republican National Convention, a mainstream media (MSM) narrative began to take shape.  The false meme stated that Obama had the momentum and the necessary support to easily win re-election.  Soon another feature was added to the construct -- i.e., that Obama's re-election is inevitable.  Too often this narrative was supported by selective polling data that underpinned the stories and purported to make them true.  The stories said Obama is inevitable because Romney is dangerous, cares only for the rich, cannot empathize with ordinary people, isn't likeable, and lacks needed experience, intelligence, and even the temperament to be the president.  And good grief, he selected Paul Ryan as his running mate, thus the conclusion must be obvious.

The result of this tragedy (not just a mistake, but a catastrophe, a tragedy): if Romney were to be elected, it would mean no health care, no Medicare, no abortions, and an extremist Supreme Court.  This construct was not just reported, but pushed by CBS, NBC, ABC, The New York Times, the Washington Post, the LA Times, et al. 

This meme aside, can any candidate cruise?  Can Obama?  Can Romney?  Is Obama's re-election inevitable?  Let's take a moment and assess some of the issues.

President Obama has important advantages.  He is the incumbent, and Americans resist retiring an incumbent without strong reasons.  Obama has the bully pulpit and is very willing to use its power and reach.  Further, Obama and his advisers have very few reservations about spinning, dissembling, and outright dishonesty in their efforts to gain victory.  And most notably, he has a blatantly fawning, biased, and collusive MSM championing his re-election.  Nevertheless, Obama faces numerous challenges:

  • An 8.1% unemployment rate, the exit of 368,000 job-seekers from the marketplace, and a miniscule addition of 96,000 jobholders during the past month. America has 12.5 million people unemployed, 23.1 million under- or unemployed, and the lowest labor participation rate in 30 years at 63.5%...a terrible and intractable situation (source: USBLS).
  • An economy that is growing at a rate of 1.7% as measured by GDP. Many economists are expecting even slower growth (1.0% to 1.5%) or a contraction (0% to -1.2%) in the immediate future. Both the consumer and the small businessman lack the confidence to spend and/or invest. Both are being further constrained by record high fuel essence, a growing regressive tax. Finally, yearly deficits exceeding $1.2 trillion are now usual, and a national debt exceeding $16 trillion continues to grow (U.S. Commerce Dept.).
  • An overwhelming number of likely voter (LV) polls show Obama's approval ratings at 45%-46%. An approval rating below 50% on Election Day has historically has meant that 80% of the undecided vote will go to the challenger...usually resulting in the incumbent's defeat.
  • Many women are no longer supporting Obama. A Reuters/Ipsos poll shows a decline in female support from 57% to 47%, as do others polls with similar results. Rasmussen, Gallup, Reuters, and other polls also show erosion in support among Hispanics, seniors, and blacks...and small reductions in each voting bloc translates into millions of votes.
  • The uncertainty of how 2.7 million workforce dropouts (in 2012) and the 8.3 million job-seekers who quit looking since Jan. 2009 will vote. The legal impact of sequestration also looms, since by law defense employers must notify workers if they are in danger of layoff. Massive reductions in the defense budget could trigger up to 2 million layoff notices just before the election.
  • A small (very small) list of liberal columnists and journalists are becoming increasingly disenchanted and may be dampening already low Democrat enthusiasm by voicing their concerns. For example, Maureen Dowd has sarcastically stated her displeasure in the pages of The New York Times: "Playing Now: Hail to Us Chiefs." (This is a must-read's a hoot).

Mitt Romney does not have any special advantages due to office, yet he has an unusual opportunity.  Since WWII, the economy has never been so crippled.  Obama was handed a major economic problem, but his recovery efforts/plan have further debilitated the economy for a multitude of reasons.  Additionally, Obama's lack of a coherent energy plan has seen fuel prices skyrocket.  The recent violence in the Middle East has presented another focal point.  Still, Romney faces a number of daunting issues:

  • The need to talk about both the economy and ideology. The tenets of being a Republican/conservative -- i.e., limited government, low taxes, personal responsibility, the rule of law, etc. -- must be presented. Americans self-define as conservative/moderate and represent a majority of more than 2 to 1 over those who say they are liberal/progressive.
  • Continuing to place emphasis on the economy, unemployment, debt, deficits, and entitlements using his 5-point plan. Yet more specificity is required; Romney's 5-point plan is a start, yet to dislodge Obama, he must broaden the plan and discuss direct economic fixes in greater detail.
  • Talking about ObamaCare negatives, the horrendous $831-billion Stimulus Plan, and continuously decoding for the voters Obama's word usage such as "investment" and a "balanced plan."
  • Maintaining his voter base's enthusiasm, a major current advantage, and finding effective methods to reduce supporter concerns and even panic in the face of media attacks. Thus, Romney's organization should model ways to tactically diminish MSM collusive and relentless bias.
  • Leveraging further his inroads with women, Hispanics/Latinos, seniors, and the Jewish community.
  • Holding his own in the debates to offset the narrative he can expect from the MSM after the debates.
  • Ensuring that his surrogates understand polling (and it's weaknesses) and the differences in accuracy from one poll type to another.

Given the above, neither candidate can cruise, since this election is still within-an-eyelash close.  The MSM storyline which has emphasized Obama's momentum and inevitability has been supported in almost every instance by selectively cited polls.  Of late, Gallup's daily job approval poll is most often cited.  The Gallup poll is an "All" (A) voter poll.  All polls are based on all adults, including aliens, felons, and many adults who are not registered.  One half or more of those surveyed will not vote.  More to the issue, of the half that can't or won't vote, 75% would have voted Democrat (based on a large number of studies).  All (A) polls usually favor the Democrat by 7% to 9%.  Registered voter (RV) polls favor Democrats by 2% to 4%.

RV polls question voters that are registered to vote.  The difference between the total group of registered voters and those voting is material.  Historically, only 70%-75% of those registered actually vote, and 66% of those not voting would have voted Democrat.  The bottom line is that only likely voter (LV) polls should be considered, and then only carefully.

Polling organizations expend significant additional effort and money to produce LV data.  However, if a realistic turnout model is not used, the poll will be inaccurate.  Many of today's polls are based on a 2008 model for turnout and will be inaccurate.  It's also important to note that famous does not mean accurate...e.g., Gallup is very famous but has had a somewhat checkered record in recent elections. 

Polls can be deceptive due to consolidation of data or the use of averages.  Real Clear Politics (RCP) average polls are mentioned probably the most often, since they are updated daily with the most current information available.  The RCP polls have two major downsides.  First A, RV, and LV polls are averaged together.  Using RCP's general election poll of September 9 the average result (of RV & LV polls) equaled 48.0% Obama, 46.0% Romney.  Adjusting the RV polls to correct the Democrat bias changes the RCP outcome to 46.5% Obama and 46.0% Romney, a significant variance.

Recent CNN polls are "combination" polls, meaning partly A, RV, and LV based on the question being asked and thus are very difficult to decipher.  Then there are polls designed to further a candidate's apparent strength against his opponent.  These polls over-poll either Democrats or Republicans.  Only the underlying detail cited in the poll methodology surfaces the bias...showing deliberately sample-weighting a political party much more than logic or history would warrant -- e.g., +10 Repub. or +13 Dem.  If the poll is executed by PPP (history of conducting polls to be used by campaign staffs), look at the detailed methodology. 

In view of the forgoing, one can only deduce that neither candidate, Obama or Romney, can "cruise" and that Barack Obama's inevitable victory is a fairy-tale construct of the stay tuned.