Momentum is an important ingredient in a tight election prior to the first debate. Barack Obama had a comfortable lead in the national polls and had an inside track position to obtain more than 270 electoral college votes, the necessary margin to win the 2012 election.
At the end of the first debate in Denver, Colorado, the momentum dynamic was reversed. Romney’s performance flipped the race and gave the Republican candidate the bounce that he never received from his Party’s Convention. The polls taken after the first debate revealed a tie in the national polls but with the incumbent President leading in the battleground states.
Mr. Romney’s Presidential ambition hinges on what takes place in Ohio. Republicans to win the White House must win Ohio to get to 270 electoral college votes. At a particular juncture in the race, President Obama had established a firewall around Iowa, Wisconsin and Ohio. That firewall no longer seems impenetrable.
The latest polls show that Mitt Romney has made significant gains in the battleground states. He now appears to have the lead in North Carolina, a state that Barack Obama won in 2008. Romney has also moved ahead in Florida. Colorado is tight and the gap in Michigan and Pennsylvania has narrowed but Obama is still expected to win those states. A poll on Wednesday, October 17 had the incumbent President leading in Iowa and Wisconsin comfortably but the situation in Ohio is rapidly changing. Obama leads by a sliver.
The consensus is that Barack Obama got the better of his opponent in the second debate. The President was combative and poignantly pointed out the Republican nominee’s inconsistencies. One week after the second debate, it is clear that the bounce that Romney received after the first debate that Obama will not receive a similar bounce.
This article will be published after the third and final Presidential debate. Presidential debates began in 1960 with the election of the Democratic candidate, John Kennedy, and the Republican nominee was Richard Nixon. The conventional wisdom prior to the 2012 election was that Presidential debates were important but were far from decisive. Presidential debates have now become nigh deterministic as to who wins or loses a Presidential election.
There are a number of critical issues that have resonated in the 2012 Presidential election. There is now a huge percentage of citizens who now define themselves as independents. That number exceeds those who define themselves as Republicans. The Democratic registration is somewhat larger than the Republicans but is rivaled by the army of independents. Presidential elections are won by the candidate who can persuade a majority of independents that they can provide the leadership necessary to advance the nation’s well-being. The 2012 election has shown that the independent vote is volatile. Many independent voters do not start paying attention to Presidential elections until a few weeks before the election. It is apparent that many in the army of independents are low-information voters.
In this age of twitter, facebook, iPads and iphones, Presidential debates have taken center stage. These debates now command viewership of sixty million people. For a nation of over three hundred million with a tradition of mid-level participation in the electoral process, sixty million people glued to their television sets is a huge number. The debates have changed the dynamic of Presidential elections. Advertisements, campaigns and stump speeches remain significant but the television debates have the power to be a game changer.
President Obama appeared successful in resurrecting the coalition that brought him victory in 2008. That coalition included overwhelming support from African Americans, majority support of Hispanics, liberal white women who understand the imminence of government, and young educated whites who understood the historical importance of electing an African American to the Presidency. For young people who turned out in large numbers in 2008, “the shine is gone from the ball”. They will not turn out in the same numbers as occurred in 2008.
Obama in the 2012 election will trounce Romney vis-à-vis the Hispanic vote as the Republicans have become truculent on immigration matters, even opposing the Dream Act. Obama’s initiative in administratively allowing immigrant children who grew up in America to stay deportation, should produce an electoral bonanza.
Women’s issues have been more salient in the waning days of the election. The issue of abortion was discussed at the end of the Vice-Presidential debate. The Republican Vice-Presidential nominee, Paul Ryan, reiterated the Republican Party’s position on their opposition to abortion. On the stump and in the second debate, Obama has highlighted his Party’s commitment to women’s rights and the right to preventive healthcare that is an integral part of the Affordable Care Act passed by the Democratic Congress in 2010 before they lost a majority in the House of Representatives.
The gender gap persists in American politics. A majority of white men as a whole do not support the Democratic Party. The majority of white women support the Democratic Party and for Obama to be re-elected, the women’s vote will be decisive.
Social Security and Medicare were considered the third rail in American politics. The Romney-Ryan ticket has advanced the “voucherization” of Medicare and the privatization of Social Security. This would normally ensure the Democratic Party winning in Florida and especially in a country where the population is aging. But Romney’s recovery from the jaws of defeat is heavily based on the electorate’s impatience of a slow economic recovery. The American electorate is essentially ahistorical and the memory loss has already set in. The 2008 economic crash has been stricken from the minds of low information voters.
In the third debate on foreign policy, Mitt Romney performed robot-like. He has no experience in foreign policy and no intellectual interest. Throughout the debate, the Republican nominee was incapable of going beyond platitudes. Obama clearly won the last two debates. As we advance to the finish line, if President Obama obtains a bounce from the third debate, he should win Ohio and be re-elected for a second term.