Three Takeaways from the Final Polls

by Josh Jordan

Today’s the day the polls stop mattering and we can finally just focus on the real electorate. But just for fun let’s take one final look at the national polling to see where the race stands as we await the results tonight.

Of all current national polls Obama has a microscopic six-tenths of a point lead. This is a reversal from pre-Sandy when Romney held a lead of less than a point. While Obama got a small bounce from Hurricane Sandy, it would appear that was fading heading into Election Day. Rasmussen showed Romney moving back into a one-point lead, and the Battleground poll remained a tie while Romney surged with independents. So here are the two key takeaways from the final round of national polls:

Independents have moved back to Romney: As I mentioned yesterday, independent voters began to quickly move back to Romney after the initial Sandy bounce for Obama. This is clear in the chart below, as Romney now averages a lead of almost ten points with independents across all national polls. This is a larger lead than Obama won with in 2008, and this alone would take Obama’s seven-point win in 2008 down to almost two. In the ten national polls below, Romney leads with independents in nine, and by six or more in seven of them. This is a massive strength for Romney that will give him a boost as the votes are counted.

Polls are still showing turnout closer to 2008 than 2004/2010: This entire cycle many polls have shown a turnout that mirrors the 2008 electorate in which Democrats held a seven-point advantage in turnout. The current national polls average a five-point advantage, which is a two point drop from 2008 but still five points higher than the even turnout from both 2004 and 2010. That means that if GOP turnout can cut the Democratic advantage to about three points or less, Romney will likely win the popular vote. If Republicans can cut the turnout advantage of Democrats to about two points or less, Romney should not only win the popular vote but have a big enough lead to avoid any chance of losing the Electoral College. If Democrats can get a five-point advantage or larger, Obama will likely win reelection, but if the mood of the country over the past four years is an indication that is a very hard target to hit.

Party identification surveys still show big swing from 2008: This is another point that I’ve covered recently, but it is even more substantial today than it was a week ago. The Gallup party-identification survey of October showed an electorate that was a one-point Republican advantage, which would seal a Romney victory and possibly a very emphatic victory.  After I wrote the article, Rasmussen released their October survey for party identification and it was even better news for the GOP. In September, during what was a fairly rough month for the Romney campaign, Republicans held a 2.6-point advantage over Democrats. That would give Romney a decisive victory by itself with his lead among independents. However, in October the margin grew to a 5.8-point Republican advantage over Democrats, with 39.1 percent identifying as Republicans, 33.3 percent as Democrats, and 27.5 percent independents. While I think that a 5.8-point advantage is a bit too rosy for the GOP this election, if it’s anywhere close to right, Romney will have a resounding victory tonight.

These three points are why I am still optimistic that Romney is going to be elected president tonight (or tomorrow if it’s a squeaker). The swing in independents means Obama will need an electorate that will closely mirror 2008 turnout, and that is going to be a very difficult target to hit this year. All of this of course is contingent on the enthusiasm of the GOP, which has been highly touted this year as a force constantly underestimated by the polls and national media. We will know soon if it is enough, but for right now I am not betting against them, and I think Team Obama knows their early-vote leads are tenuous at best. Just as the NCAA tournament has its fair share of bracket-busters, the GOP electorate this year may just be remembered as the ultimate “model-buster” for poll analysts.