Back In the Real World, the Campaign Looks a Little Different

If you live in the feverish world of the internet and cable news, you would get the impression that recent days have been consumed entirely by the Todd Akin flap, that rape has become the issue of the day, and that Republican candidates have been drowned out and unable to convey their message. But is that really what has been going on in the swing states where Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have been campaigning?

Perhaps not. The Romney campaign points out that local news coverage has mostly focused on the candidates’ themes, not the Democrats’ irrelevant hysteria. Here, for example, are the front pages of Virginia and North Carolina newspapers, where Paul Ryan has been appearing. What are the headlines? “Ryan brings GOP message to Roanoke,” “Romney’s running mate hits Obama on ‘build’ comment,” “Ryan hammers Obama on economy,” “Ryan is cheered at Raleigh stop,” “Ryan to focus on defense cuts.”

Meanwhile, how do the polls look? They have changed very little, if at all. Gallup, which is still polling registered, not likely, voters, has the race tied 46/46; Romney had been ahead 47/45 for the last couple of days. Rasmussen, who is sampling likely voters, likewise has the race tied 45/45. While Rasmussen’s polling has always been close, Romney has had at least a slight lead a large majority of the time. Meanwhile, Obama’s approval among likely voters remains under water at 48/51. The most significant point in all of these data is that Obama can’t get to 50%, either in approval rating or head-to-head against Romney. That has been true for a long time, and it isn’t likely to change between now and November.

We see a steady stream of bad polls coming out of the swing states. Quinnipiac has been a repeat offender in this regard. Yesterday Quinnipiac released a set of polls, along with CBS News and the New York Times, covering Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin. These purport to be likely voter surveys, but they obviously aren’t–not good ones, anyway–since they considered almost all of the respondents who said they were registered to be likely voters (93% in Florida, 91% in Ohio, and 92% in Wisconsin). We all know that turnout is nowhere near that high. It is hard to imagine why anyone would follow this kind of protocol unless he was deliberately trying to make Barack Obama look viable.

So here are the results:

Florida: Obama 49%, Romney 46%
Ohio: Obama 50%, Romney 44%
Wisconsin: Obama 49%, Romney 47%

Of course, the answer you get depends on whom you ask. So the first thing you need to find out is how many Republicans and Democrats there were among the respondents. Here is the answer:

So the highest percentage of Republican respondents in any of the three states was 28%. In each state, Obama under-ran the Democrats’ partisan advantage in the sample–by three points in Florida, three points in Ohio, and two points in Wisconsin. If you sampled an equal number of Democrats and Republicans, Romney would be leading in all three of these states.

What is the correct balance for likely voters? I haven’t seen meaningful numbers for these states–the Quinnipiac poll certainly doesn’t represent meaningful numbers, given its 90%-plus turnout model–but nationally, Rasmussen constantly surveys likely voters about their party preferences. The numbers fluctuate slightly as always, but the division among Republicans, Democrats and independents is close to 1/3, 1/3, 1/3. This year there have consistently been a few more Republicans than Democrats, nationwide.

All of which suggests that Mitt Romney continues to be in good shape moving into the conventions. He is even, at worst, in the competent polls, and Obama can’t get over 50%. So far, Romney has been badly outspent, but that will change starting with the convention next week. From that point until November, Romney will have more than enough resources to counter whatever smears Obama comes up with, and keep the focus where it should be, on the economy.