By John Hawkins
As a general rule, you get a much better read of a poll by looking at the top line numbers instead of digging down into the crosstabs. However, it has become a bigger issue this year because so many pollsters have been slanting their numbers towards Obama. They’re just starting to tighten things up now, but many pollsters spent the last few months assuming that Obama would have a demographic edge this year similar or even greater to the one he had in 2008 (D+8). Keep in mind that since then, the GOP had its best year in half a century (R=D). Even if you picked a number halfway in between the two (D+4), which would probably be optimistic, Obama is probably in deep trouble. If you don’t believe that, look at his numbers with Independents.
In the last three releases of the tracking poll conducted by The Washington Post and ABC News, Obama has trailed former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney among independent voters by between 16 and 20 percentage points.
That’s a striking reversal from 2008, when Obama won independent voters, who made up 29 percent of the electorate, by eight points over Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
And if Romney’s large margin among independents holds, it will be a break not just from 2008 but also from 2000 and 2004. In 2000, Texas Gov. George W. Bush won independents by 47 percent to 45 percent over Vice President Al Gore. Four years later, Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts essentially split unaffiliated voters, according to exit polls — 48 percent for Bush to 49 percent for Kerry. (Independents made up 27 percent of the vote in 2000 and 26 percent in 2004.)
Sure, it’s theoretically possible to lose the popular vote and win the electoral college. But, it has only happened four times in history and once in the last hundred years, in the incredibly close Bush vs. Gore race in 2000. As a practical matter, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Romney takes Independents by 15 points and doesn’t win by a margin big enough to make Ohio irrelevant.
Of course, there is a reason we have elections instead of just relying on polling data, but there is no way that Mitt doubles the margin with Independents that Obama had over McCain and loses the election.