October 13, 2008

Obama's Lead Will Shrink in The Next Three Weeks

A new poll by The Washington Post gives a large advantage to Obama, 53 per cent to 43 per cent, and these numbers are close to those of many respected pollsters. The race has solidified, and Obama's victory is hardly in doubt (Howard Wolfson wrote as much in The New Republic on October 5).
However, it's important to know that in the next three weeks this large gap will shrink. When the ballots will be counted the real margin could be close. This year may be different, and a Democratic landslide is a possibility, but the historical experience tells us that in a polarized political environment the results are more likely to be 51% to 49% than 55% to 45%.
At mid-October in 1992, Bill Clinton held a 14-point advantage over incumbent George H.W. Bush but he won the election by six points only. In 1976, Jimmy Carter had a lead of 13 points over incumbent Gerald Ford in Gallup polling; in the end, Carter defeated him by two points only.
The 1976 election is of great interest to us because it was surprisingly close, given the fact that it was the first one after a political catastrophe like Watergate that hit the Republicans at least as hard as the current economic catastrophe is striking them.
Actually Ford, had small amounts of ballots shifted in his direction in just two states, could have won.
In many states, the two candidates finished neck-and-neck: in Ohio, Carter won by less than 6,000 votes out of 4 million cast. In Mississippi, the Democratic candidate received only 15,000 votes more than the Republican. These two states had 32 votes in the electoral college, and that would have been enough to give Ford a majority of 272 votes, keeping the White House in Republican hands.
It's fair to say that would have been a truly amazing development, because Carter had a 1,700,000 ballots edge in the popular vote (50% to 48%), a much larger margin of Al Gore (who won the popular vote by about 550,000 votes). One may also stress the fact that Ford already was extremely lucky in winning 240 electoral votes, because he prevailed over Carter by the slimmest margin in California and Illinois (2%), and sneaked through in Iowa (22,000 votes) New Mexico (10,000), Nevada (9,000) and Maine (4,000 votes).
Nevertheless, the Ford performance should remind us of the amazing ability of Republicans in winning even after they brought disaster to the country. In 2008, that shouldn't happen but one should note that the race card, reactivated by McCain's campaign with its last ads, will play a role on November 4. It will not be a role as large as it had been in the past, but many voters who simply dislike Obama and look for a good reason for NOT voting him, will cast a ballot and these ballots will be counted. That will bring closer results than many pollsters and pundits forecast today.