Buoyed by the ‘data smart, narrative dumb’ projections of Nate Silver, Democrats are peddling the obsolete ‘electoral firewall’ metaphor, positing that Romney can’t win the election because Obama has locked up a handful of electoral tipping point states. Fact is, Romney can win the election primarily because of the disintegration of what was the firewall’s substance: the belief among a majority of voters in critical swing states that Romney was not an acceptable alternative. It may be that Obama’s a point or two ahead in many of these states with 5 to 8 percent undecided or still persuadable; claiming these leads will hold or that he’ll get a majority of the vote in any of these states is a much different argument, and it’s certainly no ‘firewall’.
(It’s curious Republicans haven’t made a point of speaking out on how the now-demolished firewall was built: with hundreds of millions of dollars in misleading attacks ads that have degraded the tone of the debate and trivialized its substance. The purpose was to destroy Romney’s credibility, but Republicans have a strong argument that Obama destroyed his own.)
Indeed, there’s a good argument that it’s Obama who’s come up against Romney’s firewall. Whereas prior to the first debate Obama was at or above 50 percent in most polls in Ohio, Iowa, Nevada, and New Hampshire – despite a terrible economy and middling job approval rating – he is now consistently well below 50 percent in these same polls. Silver’s adjusted polling averages in each state bear this out. Obama’s also now below 50 percent in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, states which Democrats generally consider in their column from day one. Over all, Obama now sits below 50 percent in states that will allocate not just 270 votes, but well over 300. He may still hold a nominal lead in many of these (e.g., 48-47), but the firewall is no more. Obama once again has to close the deal with undecided independent voters, and a majority is open to voting for his opponent.
The evidence (broadly defined) suggests Romney is far better positioned in a race to 50 percent in the key battleground states. Romney has been gaining several percentage points in swing state polls at the same time Obama has fallen below 50 percent. Indeed, Romney has a natural edge for winning undecideds: he’s beating Obama badly among independents all across the electoral map. He leads among this group by double digits nationally and by high single digits in most swing states.
This natural edge will be bolstered between now and November 6th by Romney’s first sustained advertising advantage of the campaign. Moreover, with Romney’s personal favorability rating and leadership persona rising in the eyes of the electorate, especially among women – a trend that should only continue with a late barrage of positive spots highlighting Romney’s biography and positive agenda for the future – Romney may peel off one more layer of soft support that nominally resides with Obama in the current snap shot polling.
Thus entirely data driven projections like Silver’s – giving Obama a 70 percent chance of winning the electoral college with razor thin margins in the battlegrounds – are also oblivious to the play of campaign strategy. Romney’s plan to ‘win them over late’ has clearly won out over Obama’s ‘define him early’ playbook. In a neck and neck race, this is likely a better indication of who will prevail than regression models which take their cues from past elections in which candidate debates were meaningless (or so we’re told).
InTrade gives Romney a significantly better chance of winning today than a week ago, while Silver’s models have gone in the opposite direction. This suggests that a more complex forward looking view which considers data in the context of evolving campaign narratives and the respective campaigns’ strategies has gained currency among non-biased election observers who are risky money, not simply collecting paychecks in exchange for giving comfort to their readership.