For all of the talk this year about party-ID breakdowns in polling (of which I am guilty myself), there is an underlying statistic that should have Team Obama extremely worried about their prospects: Mitt Romney leads with independents in every single national poll.
This is no small feat — in 2008 President Obama took independents by 8 percent. Today Romney’s lead with independents is, on average, 8.3 percent. That’s based on ten current national polls that provide independent head-to-head numbers (Gallup and UPI are the only two that do not): The 8.3 percentage lead with independents helps to overcome the 4.5 percent sample advantage Democrats have in those same polls, which is the reason Romney is able to scratch out a razor thin .2 percent lead:
To give a bigger sense of why this is such an important number for Romney, consider this: In 2008 Obama won the national popular vote by 7.2 percent overall. If you assume equal turnout in 2012 as 2008 (39 percent Democrats, 32 percent Republicans, and 29 percent independents) but take Obama’s 8 percent win with independents and give it Romney, that 7.2 percent 2008 margin drops to 2.6 percent. If Romney can get Obama’s lead down to 2.6 percent before they even chip away at the giant turnout advantage Democrats had in 2008 (or win over some Democrats to Romney), it is going to be almost impossible for Obama to win.
There is still time for Obama to change the course of independents, but what was originally a slim lead for Romney has become much stronger since the first debate. If Romney can hold on to independents in the same numbers he has now, he would only need to diminish the Democratic turnout advantage from 2008 in order to be the next president. Based on polls showing higher enthusiasm across Republicans nationwide, it’s been very apparent that the tightening in party breakdown was going to happen regardless. No amount of Big Birds or binders will be able to be able to change that.
— Josh Jordan is a small-business market-research consultant. You can follow him on Twitter @Numbersmuncher.