With the election less than a week away, all of the commentariat is aflutter over the nigh-maddening unpredictability of this race. It is considered virtual pundit suicide to make any predictions at all at this point, never mind the steady stream of polling showing general trends in certain areas, partially because those trends are at loggerheads, and partially because no pundit wants to be proven wrong by name. In the interests of avoiding hypocrisy, I can’t blame them.
However, seeing as this false name gives me cover to tell unpleasant truths, I must break what I believe to be hard news to my fellow conservatives: Barack Obama will likely carry Ohio. What’s more, I believe the Romney campaign may agree with me, if their search for other sources of a road to 270 votes in places like Pennsylvania and Michigan are any guide.
This is not to say that I believe Romney is necessarily doomed. History says Ohio predicts the nation’s vote, and that it has been a long time since any Republican won without it, but as anyone with the slightest trace of logical skill will tell you, history is not predictive, merely instructive. After all, before 2008, no black man had ever won the presidency. It is not impossible — especially this year — to conceive of a situation in which Mitt Romney loses Ohio but wins Wisconsin, as well as possibly Iowa and New Hampshire, and thus becomes the 45th president of the United States. In fact, I would say that all of those states — with the possible exception of Iowa, which infamously dislikes Mormons — are better prospects for Romney than the Buckeye State.
What is more, I believe that Ohio no longer represents the perfect bellwether of America that it has in the past, but instead simultaneously represents everything ugly and outdated that the Obama administration has tried to preserve in America, and everything ugly and outdated that the Bush administration embodied while it was in office. Nor do I say this as a snobby coastal elitist looking down his nose at Ohio, but rather as someone who was afflicted with the experience of living in Ohio (and being involved in the state’s politics) for some time, and came away with both an imperfect thumb on the state’s pulse and a visceral revulsion at what makes that pulse quicken.
So let me state forthrightly and honestly that I have never truly believed Mitt Romney was a good prospect in Ohio, and nor do I now. The data bears me out. Of the polls taken since the first presidential debate, Romney has led in one of them by a razor-thin margin, whereas Obama has held commanding leads in dozens. Romney’s momentum has seemed blunt and sluggish, even in the wake of the performance that reinvigorated his campaign, in Ohio. In short, based purely on the polls themselves, the voters there are unimpressed with Romney.
I grant that there are reasons that one can point to why this might be the case in those polls, and why those reasons might obscure the ability of those polls to reflect reality. For instance, it is quite true that many polls have overestimated the number of people who have voted early. Equally, it is true that said overestimation has skewed the likely voter model of many a pollster unrealistically toward the Democrats, since so many avowed early voters have become included in likely voter samples. I do not believe the polls showing five-point leads for President Obama reflect reality. With that said, those polls are the minority among the ones showing a lead for the president, most of which converge to a one- or two-point lead.
I also admit that the polls in Ohio — even the unrealistic ones — show Romney leading among independents. However, this lead is fraught with caveats, as many of those independents may simply be independents who lean Republican identifying themselves as independents, while the independents who lean Democrat lump themselves in with the party they tend to support, as Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics has observed on his Twitter feed.