Polling Report: October 23, 2012

by Bob Grundfest

The debates are done, the swing states remain swingy, and the money is flowing. Must be the last two weeks of the campaign. And true to the divided nature of the country, there are two narratives for the final push.

The first says that Mitt Romney has the momentum because of his first debate performance and the new perception, pushed very hard by his campaign, that Romney is really a moderate, not the scary conservative that Obama said he was in the summer. In many ways, Mitt has won his argument because, depending upon the poll, he has become more likable and he’s improved his standing with women. Romney’s national poll numbers are up and he’s made inroads into states that were solidly behind the president, such as Florida and North Carolina.

The second says that President Obama took it on the chin in the first debate, but came roaring back in the last two and, though he’s lost the big lead he had at the end of September, still leads in the states he needs to be reelected. Is this the controlling story? Or is there another, less-widely reported subplot?

The media seems consumed with momentum and polling figures, and you can get your fill at fivethirtyeight, Pollster, RCP,  Red State, or TalkingPointsMemo and they will tell you the same story: Obama has the lead, by varying degrees, but it’s going to be a very close election. In fact, we could be looking at a 2000 scenario, where Obama wins the electoral vote but loses the popular vote. That’s the system we have. Go figure.

At the two-week mark, Obama has the inside track on the election. Whatever movement towards Romney was evident after the first debate has slowed, the president’s ground game is resulting in leads in Ohio (though shrinking) and Iowa where early voting has been taking place. If Obama can win those two states and Nevada, where he has never been behind, then he’ll win the election. Romney has all-but taken up residence in Ohio for a late personal and advertising push, so it’s not conclusive that Obama will shut the door until election day.

All of this is giving partisans on both sides the jitters and short finger nails. I don’t see an October surprise, but I guess that’s why they call it, well, a surprise. The real surprise would be one of the candidates pulling away at the last minute. With the country so divided though, I would suggest that you buy sustenance for what will surely be a long night on November 6-7.