Gallup runs a 7-day rolling average poll for the national election which helps smooth out any one day anomalies. But with the Presidential debate being such a seminal event, Gallup split their 7-day poll into pre- and post- debate results and the post-debate results are very bad for President Obama.
Registered voters’ preferences for president are evenly split in the first three days of Gallup tracking since last Wednesday’s presidential debate. In the three days prior to the debate, Barack Obama had a five-percentage-point edge among registered voters.
There are a number of reasons why this is horrible for Obama rather than Romney:
First and foremost, Undecideds break 65-85% for the challenger as elections draw to a close absent a disqualifying event for the challenger. Here is a study by lefty blog MyDD showing 72% of Undecideds break for the challenger in prior Presidential elections. Here was their view in October 2004:
There have been four incumbent presidential elections in the past quarter-century. If we take an average of the final surveys conducted by the three major networks and their partners, we find that in three of these the incumbent fell short of or merely matched his final poll number, while exceeding it only once, and then by just a single point (Ronald Reagan). On average, the incumbent comes in half a point below his final poll result.Year Incumbent Final Poll % Actual Vote % 1996 Clinton 51 49 1992 Bush 37 37 1984 Reagan 58 59 1980 Carter 42 41
The numbers for challengers look quite different. In every case, the challenger(s) — I include Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996 — exceed their final poll result by at least 2 points, and the average gain is 4 points. In 1980, Ronald Reagan received 51 percent, fully 6 percentage points above his final poll results. Looking at just Gallup, Mystery Pollster delivers even more bad news for incumbent Presidents:[T]he final Gallup projections (sans undecided) show an intriguing pattern: In the presidential elections since 1956 that featured an incumbent, Gallup’s final projection of the incumbent’s vote exceeded the incumbent’s actual vote six of eight times. The only exceptions were Ronald Reagan in 1984 and George H.W. Bush in 1992, and then by only 0.2% and 0.7% respectively. On average, Gallup’s projection of the incumbent’s vote has averaged 1.3 percentage points greater than the actual result.
This was all in the lead up to incumbent George W Bush’s re-election and as we have shown, Undecideds decisively broke for John Kerry. The difference in that election was Bush banked an unusually large and unprecedented turnout from his partisans which is what Obama is trying to replicate.
Undecideds break for the challenger for a number of reasons but mostly it has to do with the incumbent which is why Obama’s support hasn’t (and won’t) change. Obama has been the President for four years and he spent two years running for President (we really need to shorten that cycle) so the public knows everything it needs to know about who Obama is, who Obama was, and who Obama will be if given a second term. And the American public is willing to fire him evidenced by his sub-50% support.
The thing about Obama’s support level is it has been at this level throughout the general election and it never moves. This is because the public has assessed his performance and found him wanting. They’re willing to fire Obama and until the recent debate they weren’t willing to hire Mitt Romney. Romney’s strong debate performance was the first time Romney really “made the sale” to the public and they have been buying what he is selling ever since. The key will be to sustain that momentum through election day.
In a 47 to 47 dead-heat election that leaves 6% up for grabs but if 2% go to third parties, that really leaves only 4%. That’s not a lot of votes to gain or in Obama’s case, not a lot of votes you need to make certain don’t show up since they are most likely going to your challenger. Although Obama mostly cannot “win” those votes he can fight hard to convince them not to vote for Romney (i.e. stay home). That is why he puts forth no vision for the future via a 2nd term agenda and just attacks, attacks, attacks Romney. He’s not going to persuade anyone not already in his camp and needs those remaining people to simply not vote or vote 3rd party.
Mitt Romney needs to continue “making the sale” since the transaction isn’t complete until election day, but as it stands the momentum and history is strongly on his side and against the incumbent, especially in a 47 to 47 election with less than a month left.