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Morning Jay: Did Obama Really Win the Summer?

6:00 AM, Sep 10, 2012 • By JAY COST
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As we wait to see the extent and duration of Barack Obama’s post-convention bounce, it makes sense to do a little analytical house cleaning. In particular, a meme developed over the summer that Barack Obama was a strong favorite to win reelection, thanks to a sustained and substantial lead over his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, particularly in the swing states.

This impression has been facilitated in part by several factors: an aggressive Obama PR operation that courts the media in an attempt to create a “bandwagon” effect, registered voter polls that often over-sample Democrats, left-leaning journalists who often assume an Obama advantage; former Obama campaign consultant Nate Silver, whose black-box statistical model for the New York Times has shown an outsized lead for the president (and whose 2010 model gave Democrats a 20 percent chance of holding the House on Election Day), as well the proliferation of surveys conducted by Public Policy Polling, which does regular polling for the hyper-partisan union, the Service Employees International Union.

I want to look at the data from a different perspective. In particular, let’s look at non-partisan, likely voter polls that RealClearPolitics used in its averages from the month of August (multiple polls from the same pollster were averaged and counted only once). What do we see?

Considering the efforts of the Obama team to redefine Romney as a heartless plutocrat, it is interesting to see that, for all intents and purposes, this race was a dead heat last month among those who intended to vote.

A related meme that developed over the summer is that, while the national polls were close, Obama had a much stronger position in the swing states. But was that really true? Let’s run through the list.

Here is Ohio:

Here is Virginia:

Here is Florida:

Here is North Carolina:

Here is Colorado:

What inferences can we draw from these numbers? A few:

1. President Obama’s numbers were mired at or below 47 percent nationwide and the key swing states, despite the fact that he is universally known and has been running many ads to develop a lead.

2. Romney had a lead in North Carolina, while Colorado, Virginia, and Florida were effectively tied.

3. While Obama had a lead in Ohio, his numbers in that state were, on average, the lowest of all the swing states measured here except for North Carolina.

4. Obama has a larger lead in Wisconsin (48.7 to 46.7) and Michigan (47.5 to 45.3), but both states remain very tight. There was not enough polling to build a reliable average for Iowa, Nevada, and New Hampshire, but given Romney's media buys and the electoral history of these states, it is a fair bet that the results there were basically similar.

5. After the convention bounce fades and after pollsters shift to likely voter screens, we should see a tightening of the race, and with it an adjustment of the conventional wisdom.

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