Democrat Perspective: Why Obama Will Win

Mark Halperin posted a couple documents regarding ostensibly a dispassionate credible assessment of the state of the Presidential race by Democrat Doug Sosnik:

Doug Sosnik is one of the smartest people in American politics. A Democrat, who worked for, among others, Bill Clinton, he is the rare partisan who is able to engage in dispassionate analysis about the two major parties and their candidates. If you want a good a snapshot of where the race stands today — and why — read Sosnik’s analysis here and look at his PowerPoint slides here.

While some people have serious issues with Halperin I actually like his work a lot despite his occasional lurches to the Left.  That said, I wanted to thoroughly analyze the points Sosnik makes to get a better sense of the state of the race.  I genuinely enjoy smart opinions that challenge my own — it only makes us sharper. This 8-page write-up and slide presentation makes some good points regarding Romney’s weaknesses (‘failure to connect with voters’) but I did not find his arguments either factually accurate nor persuasive.  He largely identifies 8 characteristics of this campaign followed by extensive exposition why these factors likely add up to a President Obama re-election. I will offer counter-factuals point-by-point:

1. Obama’s Job Approval Ratings have Held Steady (at 48%)

  • Job approval below 50% is nearly always the mark of an elected official about to lose his job.  Jay Cost of The Weekly Standard went to great lengths demonstrating how job approval percent almost exactly correlates with the popular vote total of a President. 48% of the popular vote is likely a 4 percentage point loss in November. Additionally, even high job approval doesn’t always translate into electoral wins.  In 2004 George Bush lost every battleground State where is job approval was 53% or lower — a daunting statistic for a president at 48%.

2. Obama has Maintained a Year-Long Lead in the Race

  • This is the big rub I have with Sosnik’s piece. A great many of his arguments ultimately rise or fall based on polling numbers that have been shown to be likely wholly unrealistic samplings of the public–always greatly in favor of President Obama. This is the straight forward argument that Obama has led all year by ~3-5 points so what’s going to change over the next 53 days? Nothing, in Sosnik’s view, but if Democrats show up on election day 8 percentage points higher than Republicans as happened in 2008, he’s probably correct.  The problem is all the polling evidence says a repeat of the 2008 turnout imbalance is simply not going to happen due to voter registration changes, enthusiasm changes and a far more competent campaign than McCain 08.

3. Almost 9 in 10 Obama and Romney Supporters are Certain about Their Vote

  • I found this to be a neutral point.  Both sides have consolidated their base (begging the question: is one base measurably bigger than the other like 2008?)

4. Obama’s Support has Remained Stable Despite Voter Disappointment with the Direction of the Country

  • The public’s view whether the country is on the right-track or wrong-track is a horrible statistic for Obama. Sosnik argues that in February this split was 30% right track versus 62% wrong track while in the three Battleground State polls this past week by NBC/WSJ/Marist, all states were at least 42% saying the country is on the right track. While still low, the trend shows meaningful positive momentum heading to an election for an incumbent. Here again Sosnik relies of polling that is heavily biased through massive oversampling of Democrats.  If these polls aren’t reflective of the public opinion (Democrats will have a 10-point turnout advantage in Ohio in November?  I don’t think so)  than yes, President Obama is on his way to victory. But if those polls don’t accurately reflect the voter make-up today, then he’s basing his opinions on discredited poll results.

5. Voters Still Blame Bush More than Obama for Economic Problems

  • The polls have been pretty consistent (regardless of the biasing or margins) in this regard and this does somewhat mute the natural negative inclination of voters to reject an incumbent in a bad economy.  This is why President Obama has run almost his entire campaign trying to tie Mitt Romney;s policies to George Bush.  The economy is Obama’s main weakness and this is one of the few cards he can play that may get traction in the voting booth.  The question is whether with Bush not on the ballot, can Obama change enough minds to figuratively put him back on?

6. Republicans’ Low Approval Ratings Work Against Romney

  • This is the damaged Republican Brand argument. Neither party is exactly coming up roses with the American public which is why every election since 2006 has seen massive turnover in elected officials. My criticism here though is again Sosnik relies on those same discredited polls. As I point out in my blog post, I find it highly unlikely that voters view Republicans negatively by 10-points while simultaneously viewing Democrats positively by 8-points yet the House of Representatives is going to return Republicans back to power by likely another large majority. It simply strains logic to accept those figures at face value and extrapolate them they way he does.

7. Voters View Obama Favorably

  • This is Demcorats hopeful ace up their sleeves.  They want to believe that likeability above 50% will trump job approval below 50%.  It’s a nice theory, but it has rarely produced results at the voting booth.

8. Voters Continue to View Romney Unfavorably

  • This is the reason why I believe the race is still close even adjusting for biases in the polling.  Romney simply is not connecting with the public for a variety of reasons. When the Democrat surrogates masquerading as journalists talk about the manufactured metric of “empathy gap,” this is where that holds some water.  It’s not a decisive factor in the ultimate election but it is an area creating some drag on the Romney campaign keeping him from pulling ahead/away.

Getting to 270

Sosnik then talks at length about the path to 270 electoral votes and how Obama has many ways to get there while Romney’s is limited.  For much of this section Sosnik basically takes the power of incumbency which was true for EVERY modern incumbent and says this is why Romney will lose. These are some of the more frustrating arguments because every time the response is: that is true for every incumbent. There is nothing unique in favor for Obama or unique working against Romney in his arguments.

And some of his arguments simply have no basis in serious discussion of electoral trends and outcomes.  One of his cited Romney weakness is 5.4 million people watched Obama’s Convention speech than Romney’s.  In 2008 (Obama’s peak Hopey-Changey time), Republicans averaged 4 million more viewers every day during their convention than did Democrats and McCain outdrew Obama by 500k. It was the strength of going second (which comes with being the incumbent party) that drew the TV audience.  George Bush had 3 million more viewers than John Kerry at Convention that had 40% less viewers. That means % wise, George Bush’s 2004 margin was superior to Obama’s 2012 margin. And it meant NOTHING after the first debate or on election day in November. Just a stupid anecdote distracting  from a serious subject.  Note: Sosnik offered not of those comparable statistics.

This one paragraph was so bad I wanted to excerpt the whole thing:

The Obama campaign has pinned down Romney in states that he should have put away by now. At the same time, Romney’s campaign has burned through a lot of money in Obamastates that it failed to make competitive, leaving Romney in a much more defensive position in the final weeks.

Two statements with little basis in reality. Romney pinned down in states he should have put away?  This is North Carolina — a red state Obama improbably won in 2008.  A state Democrats were so confident they could put in play they held their Convention there.  How many official campaign stops has Obama made in North Carolina in 2012?  I believe the answer is ZERO.  He had a White House event at Fort Brag in April and other than the Convention he has not stepped foot in the state.  Romney is smartly spending the money to put the state to bed after the disastrous and non-existent 2008 McCain debacle left the state with no campaign infrastructure. Sosnik talks about Romney having to outspend Obama by $12.5 million there as an issue in a campaign where both campaigns will spend $1 billion.  That is rounding error.

He then cites Michigan (a major blue state) where Romney has understandably spent much more than Obama because he looking to put the state in play — that’s what a challenger should do to extend the map. Obama’s spend in the state has been nominal and there are rumblings of Romney pulling out but we’ll see about that soon.

Finally he cites Wisconsin — another blue state where Romney is expanding the electoral map — as an Obama advantage due to ad expenditures.  No mention that Obama is personally campaigning in a state he won by 14-points four years ago.
And if we want to talk about campaign finances, how about Obama’s negative burn rate every month since May (and some months even prior to that)?  How about Obama outspending Romney 3-to-1 all summer with unprecedented hundreds of millions of dollars in negative ads that opened no discernible lead for Obama? One campaign is flush with cash while the other is desperately tapping any well. I’d side with the strong bull (Romney) over the gasping cow (Obama).

In summary, I appreciate the learned Democrat argument from someone who allegedly can see beyond partisan lenses.  However, the entire argument in favor of Obama is predicated on the advantages of incumbency inherent in any President running for re-election and validated by biased poll results. We’ll see if Democrat voter advantage on election day is 7-8 points and the white vote makes up only 72% of the electorate as predicted in the confident Democrat models.  I don’t see those coming to pass nor do I see these arguments as dispositive of the race outcome in favor of Obama.  Romney, by no means, is decisively winning this race either but I simply believe the evidence favoring the inevitability of Obama is deeply flawed and fools gold for Democrat supporters.

One Comment

  1. Mark
    Posted September 17, 2012 at 7:12 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I don’t really get this idea of “narrow paths to victory”.

    I think the swing states will all go as a block, one way or the other. It won’t be “close”.

    Either Romney succeeds in making this about the economy and Obama, in which case the swing states will all line up behind him and he’ll win comfortably. Or Obama succeeds in demonising Romney, in which case the swing states (except NC probably) will stick with the Dems.

    Romney (or Obama) may win certain swing states more narrowly than others due to local factors, but I can’t see (say) Virginia going one way while Ohio goes the other…

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