Romney surges, but it’s still (narrowly) advantage Obama

Poll after poll has confirmed that, in the eyes of the electorate as well as more seasoned commentators, Mitt Romney enjoyed a thumping victory over Barack Obama in the first US presidential TV debate, followed by a definite bounce in general election polling.

Gallup, who have been testing the public response to Presidential debates since 1984, found that Americans said Romney won the debate by 72%-20%, the highest margin ever seen. Even Democrats judged Romney the winner, by a 49%-39% margin. The CNN/ORC international poll carried out on debate evening also found Americans rating Romney as the winner by a whopping margin, in this case 67%-25%.

The debate win produced a burst of Romney support in both national and state polling. The respected polling average shows Romney enjoying his first lead over Obama in national polling since October 2011. Polls in crucial swing states confirm the trend – Colorado, Virginia and Florida, where Obama has enjoyed narrow but consistent leads for most of this year, now read like dead heats. The margin in Obama’s favour in Ohio, which opened up dramatically after the Democratic convention, has narrowed even more quickly. North Carolina has started to look like a state securely in Romney’s column for the first time.

If Romney can, indeed, sweep the South and pick up Colorado, then the election will come down to Ohio. Romney has been stumping frantically in the state and drawing large crowds to rallies – every bit as large as Obama’s. The GOP are also claiming a substantially stronger early voting operation in key states than last time around, seeking to neutralise the advantage of Obama’s sophisticated volunteer organisation and information management system.

It is now definitely ‘game on’. Republican activists are energised and excited. But it isn’t ‘game over’; in fact it’s still advantage Obama. What factors indicate that Romney still faces an uphill climb?

Firstly, debate bounces, like convention bounces, often prove ephemeral. John Cassidy of the New Yorker notes that John Kerry also enjoyed a 4-5% surge in national polling after a strong first debate performance against George W. Bush in 2004, which faded quickly. All three major national tracking polls have shown some levelling out of Romney’s initial post-debate surge over the past few days. Last Friday’s unemployment figures, which showed joblessness falling below the 8% level Obama inherited from GW Bush for the first time, may also have played a part in this.

Secondly, even at the height of the current bounce, Romney’s narrow national lead (which RCP currently estimates at 1.1%) is not translating into an electoral college win. Republicans currently face a significant structural disadvantage in the Electoral College, with huge Republican majorities in most of the South and Plains States adding to Romney’s national share of the vote but not his number of delegates in the Electoral College. It does Romney no good to pad his margin in Texas or Utah if he still falls a few thousand votes short in Florida and Ohio. This is true of all first-past-the-post systems – the largest party has not always won the largest number of seats in UK general elections either – but structural imbalances are magnified manifold in systems like that used for the Electoral College, where dozens of seats at a time can be awarded en bloc to the overall leader in a particular region.

Finally, Obama has started out-raising Romney over the past few months and in key states is matching and even outspending both Romney and the world of Republican Political Action Committees dollar-for-dollar in the artillery barrage of negative attack ads that has defined the election for many swing state voters.

If this is the peak of the Romney bounce, then the election is already over. If, on the other hand, this is the first of a number of mini-surges for Romney, then he may yet become the 45th President of the United States.

Given Obama’s dismal performance in the first debate, he cannot avoid any slip ups in his two remaining head-to-heads. At the time, Democrats mocked Romney for locking himself up for most of the week of the Democratic National Convention for debate prep. With hindsight, that looks like the smartest move of his campaign so far. Romney has turned an alleged Obama strength into a weakness. If Obama repeats his disastrous performance of last Wednesday, under-prepared and yet terribly stiff at the same time, he could be on his way to a one-term Presidency.

Tonight, however, will be the one night the two Vice Presidential candidates lock horns, with Paul Ryan’s energy and dynamism likely to contrast with Biden’s uncharismatic but robust old political streetfighter routine. Polling shows both VP candidates have anaemic approval ratings.

I have struggled to believe that the VP candidates, let alone VP debates, make the slightest difference in American elections ever since Lloyd Bentsen’s evisceration of Dan Quayle in 1988 failed to prevent George H W Bush obliterating Michael Dukakis come polling day. With all eyes on Obama’s lacklustre performance last week, this year could be different. But don’t bet the farm on it.

  • Framer

    Watch the media go into reverse gear over Romney, praising his English heritage or finding an Irish granny while Mormonism will go from weird to a minority religion which was oppressed by mainstream Protestant America in the 19th century.

  • Greenflag

    We take for granted that economics influences politics and political choices and thus results but could ‘geology ‘ have the trump card in this election ?

    The Republicans can’t win certain counties because of 100 million year old -dead plankton ? Fascinating read.

    Could certainly be the case perhaps if the President was elected by popular vote instead of by electoral college .

    As to why why Mitt Romney ‘won’ the debate last Wednesday ? He said ‘you’ 37 times as opposed to Obama’s 6 .

    The Biden/Ryan bout will attract more attention than it otherwise would because of last week’s ‘result ‘

    Biden is under greater pressure -this has to be a must see for the political anoraks .

    But the strategy of avoiding direct confrontation was clearly decided in advance. And it probably wouldn’t have turned out so disastrously for Obama if Romney hadn’t been hammering on him with all those second-person pronouns that he wasn’t responding to. All of a sudden the style that must have seemed deliberative in rehearsal came off as evasive, timid and peckish.

    But the strategy of avoiding direct confrontation was clearly decided in advance. And it probably wouldn’t have turned out so disastrously for Obama if Romney hadn’t been hammering on him with all those second-person pronouns that he wasn’t responding to. All of a sudden the style that must have seemed deliberative in rehearsal came off as evasive, timid and peckish.

  • Greenflag

    Apologies for the last paragraph above being double pasted 🙁

  • Pete Baker

    “But it isn’t ‘game over’; in fact it’s still advantage Obama.”

    Well, maybe, Gerry…

    The significance of debate bounces depend on the individual circumstances. Which you haven’t taken into account in this particular scenario.

    But interesting to see the argument that the money raised and spent on campaigning plays a significant role being utilised. That is, if I recall correctly, what happened last time too… True believers notwithstanding.

    And I think you mean that “Given Obama’s dismal performance in the first debate, he cannot [afford] any slip ups in his two remaining head-to-heads.”

    But “avoid” is possibly more accurate.

    In short, it’s still too early to tell. Yet.

    Depending, perhaps, on how righteously offended you think Libyans actually were…

  • Mick Fealty

    Kevin and I talked some of this stuff through earlier…

    One thing that’s obvious is that the Obama money trying to blacken Romney might have been better spent trying defend his ow Presidency. This time, not many too people are doing it for free…

  • Drumlins Rock

    Obama is still likey to win, but one medium size slip up or a couple of small ones will change that.

  • Progressive Unionist

    Biden did great last night, among undecideds he won by 19 points over Ryan. Such a relief after last week’s debate!

    The effect this will have on the polls (if any at all) remains to be seen.

    But it’s a huge injection of confidence for the blue half of America and especially to Obama’s campaign grassroots, and will hopefully focus the president’s own mind going into Tuesday’s debate…

  • I thought that Biden did a great job of showing Romney and Ryan’s shallowness, especially their total absence of anything concrete.

  • Greenflag

    Ryan did better than I expected and Biden did very well but did a bit too much smirking at the outset -it took away from his performance a bit .

    One problem which Romney/Ryan will have to counter is the growing number of positive reports on the economy coming from a wide range of reporting agencies and even conservative ones . At the same time Romney should come clean on the 23 million figure he uses for unemployment . Both parties are fudging the truth -the truth being that the ‘official ‘figures are to use Biden’s word ‘malarkey ‘ . The true figure is closer to 16% with some states close to 20% .

    In the end the Romney /Ryan alternative amounts to OWO (Out with Obama ) and BTTD (Back to trickle down economics ) .The problem being that most Americans can now see what the effect of ‘trickle down ‘ has been in the real economy ‘ -it has for the best part of a decade now been not trickle down but instead a gouging of the middle and lower income classes for the sole benefit of the top 5 to 10% and more especially the top 1% of the American population .

    The failure by Romney Ryan to specify how they will reduce the deficit would lead one to suspect that what they would do if elected will be so unpalateable to the vast majority of Americans that they dare not be truthful about their intentions before election day .

    Goldman Sachs are now pumping every dollar they can into the Romney /Ryan campaign .One hardly needs to explain why . The Romney Ryan /Goldman Sachs candidate wants your vote so that Wall St can continue it’s unrestrained path of loot and pillage not just on the USA but across the entire globe 🙁

  • Greenflag

    In passing it should be noted that the Moderator Martha Raddatz did a great job in keeping the debate on track and her final question about each of the candidates ‘Catholic ‘ faiths was I thought a great way to end the debate . Biden came across clearly as pro separation of church and state whereas Ryan was less so or thats how it seemed to me .