Four weeks to go and the national polls are quite clear: Romney is winning. Or, look again, and it could be that Obama is winning. The polls are all over the place, reflecting numbers that even stretch credibility.
This we do know. The only poll that counts is underway. People are voting across the country either in early polling locations or through absentee ballots.
We also know that American voters are decidedly divided. Those who started this election season deeply mistrusting Barack Obama remain so. And, it’s a similar story for those who see the past four years as an antidote to the Bush era, these are folks who fear Republican Mitt Romney will restore the policies of George W. Bush.
This election, more than most, is about the presidential candidates convincing their voters to turn out. To be motivated and to really vote.
Why does this matter? Let’s look at the data. The Gallup tracking poll showed Obama with a comfortable five point lead just before last week’s debate. Now Gallup says the race is tied, both candidates showing 47 percent support. “An October 4-5 Gallup poll finds roughly two in three Americans reporting that they watched the October 3 debate, similar to what Gallup measured for each of the three 2008 presidential debates,” Gallup says. “Those who viewed the debate overwhelmingly believe Romney did a better job than Obama, 72 percent to 20 percent. Republicans were nearly unanimous in judging Romney the winner. But even Democrats rated Romney as doing a better job than Obama, 49 percent to 39 percent.”
Still, Gallup reports, “the impact was not so strong that it changed the race to the point where Romney emerged as the leader among registered voters. Rather, at least in the first three days of Gallup tracking after the debate, the race is tied.”
But this poll is of registered voters. That includes many people who might not vote. Remember if it’s tied, then the election is won by the side that gets more of their voters to actually go to the polls and cast a ballot. So a screen that many pollsters use is “likely voters,” asking questions about the motivation of someone to take the next step.
This is where the numbers get wild. Pew Research says likely voters now favor Mitt Romney.
“Coming out of the debate, Mitt Romney’s personal image has improved. His favorable rating has hit 50 percent among registered voters for the first time in Pew Research Center surveys and has risen five points since September,” Pew reported. “At the same time, Obama’s personal favorability rating has fallen from 55 percent to 49 percent.”
The most striking find in the Pew Survey is an 18-point swing among women who are likely to vote. Pew says women are now evenly divided, 47 percent to 47 percent. Only a month ago Obama led by 56 percent to 38 percent among women likely voters. This large of a shift, especially from one debate, seems unlikely. Even beyond credible.
Another new poll, the POLITICO/George Washington University Battleground Tracking Poll shows Obama and Romney essentially tied, 49 percent to 48 percent. But the key finding is about answering the question, who will vote? “Only 73 percent who support Obama say they are ‘extremely likely’ to vote, compared to 86 percent who back Romney,” the Politico says. “Likewise, 84 percent of Republicans say they are extremely likely to vote, compared to 76 percent of Democrats.”
So how do these polls translate into the state-by-state electoral map? “The swing state polls published on Monday might best be described as being OK for Mr. Obama,” writes Nate Silver in The New York Times’ fivethirtyeight blog. “He led in polls of Colorado, Iowa, Pennsylvania and Virginia, and in two polls of Michigan. In all cases, Mr. Obama’s lead was small.”
Of those states the one most significant is Michigan. Two polls showed Obama’s lead shrinking to a narrow lead in a state that had not been considered competitive. Neither campaign is investing much in the way of television advertising, for example.
How close is this election? Consider the Real Clear Politics average of all polls. That average shows Obama with a tiny lead of 47.9 percent over Romney’s 47.4 percent. Or a lead – if you can call it that – of one-half of one percent, a fraction that reflects a divided nation.
Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. He has been writing about Indian Country for more than three decades. His e-mail is: firstname.lastname@example.org.