COMMENTARY | Everyone is expecting the 2012 election between President Barack Obama and the former governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, to be a narrowly decided race. Although Obama may run up substantive margins in the popular vote due to his popularity in the large, liberal-leaning states such as New York and California, the Electoral College math and the race to 270 is likely to be more closely contested. The latest polling data from Real Clear Politics’ average of eight election polls has President Barack Obama slightly ahead Mitt Romney 46.6 to 44.8 percent (+1.8). However, Obama is leading in an Associated Press Poll/GfK poll and a Reueter/Ipsos poll by 8 percentage points and 7 percentage points, respectively.
The polling data is much more revealing when one looks at the key battleground states in the 2012 race. Because of President Obama’s 50-state strategy from 2008, the Democratic Party has a number of routes to 270. Of the major battleground states in the 2012 race (North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado, Iowa, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Arizona, and Indiana), President Barack Obama won eight out of nine of them back in 2008. President Obama need not win each of these battleground states in 2012 to win the general election in November. In fact, the President Obama only needs to win two of what I would refer to as the the “big three” states. Such states include Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida.
Ohio: In 2008, President Obama won Ohio with 51.5 percent of the popular vote to John McCain’s 46.9 percent. The latest average of five polls has Obama beating Romney in Ohio, 47 to 42.4. A Fox News poll has Obama ahead of Romney in the state of Ohio by a margin of 6 points, 45 to 39.
Pennsylvania: In 2008, Obama won the state of Pennsylvania by an even larger margin. In fact, he won with 54.48 percent of the popular vote. The latest polling has Obama winning in each of the five polls, and by an average of 7 points, 46 to 39.
Florida: In 2008, the Florida race was really close, but Obama was able to secure the victory in the state. Latest polling average has Obama winning by only half a percentage point in the state. So if Romney has a chance at winning any of the “big three” states, it is going to be in Florida.
Obama appears to have an electoral advantage at the moment, however, the election is almost six months away and anything can happen before then. The economy is improving, but it is doing so at a much slower pace than most American voters would like. Thus, if Romney is able to acquire the support of voters who are weary about the current economic predicament of the nation, he may be able to take Florida and viably compete in Ohio and/or Pennsylvania. However, if President Obama’s campaign is able to help voters make the crucial connection between Romney’s economic proposals, and the economic policies that were implemented during the Bush Administration, he may be able to win re-election based on voters’ unwillingness to return to Bush-era economic policies.
The 2012 election is going to be very close. One of the great things about this year’s election is that voters are choosing between candidates with fundamentally distinct visions for the country. When Obama and Romney step on stage in October and engage in substantive policy discourse and dialogue, millions of Americans will be watching. The three debates in October are going to highlight the policy contrasts between the two candidates, and this may have a meaningful influence on those voters who are still undecided in the fall. The current polls suggest that Obama has an advantage going into summer campaigning, but as I have said before, anything could happen between now and November that may radically shift the electoral landscape.