By Zach Crowley
Four years ago President Barack Obama rolled into office as the electorate reacted to a suddenly struggling economy after eight years of President George W. Bush.
At the midterm elections, with the economy not yet recovered and following the advent of Tea Party politics, the country shifted to the right and Republicans earned a majority in the House of Representatives.
What will this year’s election bring? Right now, the answer is not clear.
Early predictions that the Republicans would take the Senate have softened and a slight Democratic majority is more likely. Similar expectations of a Democratic revival in the House are scaling back and the national election is murkier today than it was a month ago. In September, the President held a sizable advantage in advance of the first debate, before the polls started focusing on likely voters, rather than registered voters.
As of the final days of October, Governor Mitt Romney’s campaign had overtaken Obama and led in most national polling among likely voters. However, the Obama campaign can take comfort in an apparent Electoral College lead and Obama advisor David Axelrod cited a perceived strong advantage for the President in the votes of those who sent in their ballots early.
Among the widely-cited national polls, Romney held slim leads in Gallup; Real Clear Politics (an average of national polls); Rasmussen; ABC/Washington Post; and AP/GFK, while Obama led in the PPP poll. The leads stretched from less than one point to the four points reported by Gallup.
Gallup’s poll is noteworthy not only for the lead, but the discrepancy between registered voters and likely voters. While registered voters prefer Obama to Romney, 48 percent to 46 percent, likely voters tend toward Romney at 50 percent to 46 percent. This is consistent with historical precedent – a rule of thumb in American campaign politics is that Republicans tend to benefit as more registered voters stay home.
Meanwhile, in the battleground states where support for one candidate or the other is no foregone conclusion, the poll results featured on Real Clear Politics are kinder to the incumbent. Romney holds apparent polling leads in North Carolina and Florida, but those electoral votes would not be enough to unseat the President if he holds onto his apparent advantage in Ohio, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Iowa, and Nevada. Virginia, meanwhile, showed most recently as a virtual tie, at 47.8 per cent each.
While the national results are not as promising as the President might hope, he may take solace in the state-by-state results. Perhaps for this reason, InTrade continues to expect the President to retain his seat at 63 percent odds.
The story is not only the Presidential race.
The Democratic majority of 53 percent to 47 percent in the Senate is at stake. Thirty-three seats are up for election and 23 were held by Democrats. The Democrats need to win 21 of the 33 races to retain their majority.
As of early October, Cook political reports saw a likely Democrat victory in 17 races, a likely Republican victory in 6, and 10 seats were classified as a tossup. Similarly, as of August, the Sabato Crystal Ball identified 17 likely Democratic victories, with 11 likely Republican victors and only 5 toss-ups. In general the movement on Cook has been toward favorable results for the Democrats and away from the Republicans, but the picture is not terribly clear.
How about the House of Representatives? Republicans currently hold a sizable 49-seat advantage in Congress. While early analysis from the spring of 2012 offered a likelihood of Democrats retaking the House, more recent estimates see Democrats falling shy. While Americans generally disapprove of the manner in which Congress conducts its business, with favorability ratings as low as 10 percent, each party seems to lose with no apparent political advantage accruing to either side. Real Clear Politics reports a steady dead heat between the parties in an aggregate of generic congressional votes around the country.
That leaves us with a tossup presidential election, an uncertain Senate majority, and a likely Republican Congress. So much for the polling: the night of Nov. 6 ought to be fantastically entertaining.