Sunday, October 14, 2012

Watching Likely Voters

I've argued that the first debate did not so much convince any voters to vote differently as it charged up Republican voters and depressed Democratic voters. This shift has been reflected in the polling as the composition of likely voters has changed just slightly. Of course, slight changes in the composition of likely voters are huge. So, I don't mean to downplay the shift. But I do want to point out that there are two things that potentially work in the President's favor if Romney is banking on a favorable likely voter pool to put him over the top:

1) The difference between likely voters and registered voters is unusually large right now and I think it is likely to shrink. It won't be zero. Romney will get a boost mainly because of demographics. Older people support Romney and younger people support Obama. Older people are more likely to vote. This is the biggest reason for Romney's advantage among likely voters but there are others. But likely voter numbers are a prediction that can change, especially if the President is able to un-do some of the damage done by the first debate. I think Democrats are a bit more enthused after the VP debate. If the President has a better night on Tuesday night, there is every chance the media narrative will be about how Obama "came back," etc. That will fire up the Democratic base and those likely voter numbers might get better.

2) The Obama campaign has been banking on their GOTV operation and they argue it will translate into a real advantage in a close race on Election Night. Nobody knows for sure whether this is real. But we're starting to see some very limited evidence consistent with the Obama narrative. Michael McDonald, who is the authoritative word on early voting, breaks down some of the early voting numbers here. The short version is that it does appear the Obama campaign is outperforming the Romney campaign on early voting, at least in some battleground states. This evidence is supplemented, of course, by the early voting numbers in a couple of polls in Ohio. NBC/WSJ and PPP have both polled Ohio in recent days and both break out early voting numbers. As of yesterday, PPP found that 19% of respondents said they had already voted and these respondents reported going for Obama by a staggering 76/24 margin. Just a few days earlier, NBC/WSJ found that 18% of respondents in Ohio said they had already voted and this group broke for the President 63/37.

Nate Silver finds this mix of early voting data and likely voter findings in polls to be difficult to reconcile and I agree. Silver tweeted this out yesterday:

There's too little data at this point to tell whether the early voting data or the likely voter polling data paints more of an accurate picture of the two campaigns' GOTV efforts. But, as Silver points out, if the gap between likely voters and registered voters closes some, Obama will win.

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