Welcome to November. Earlier in the week, one of the oldest and most respected polling firms in America -- Gallup -- produced results based on thousands of voter contacts indicating that Mitt Romney is leading in national early voting by roughly six percentage points. Last night, another venerable polling outfit confirmed Gallup's findings with a survey of its own. From Pew Research:
The Pew Research Center survey found that the race is even among all likely voters nationwide (47% Obama, 47% Romney). Unlike the last campaign, the race also is close among voters who say they have already voted. In the poll, conducted Oct. 24-28, 19% of likely voters say they have already voted; that is unchanged from the same week in the 2008 campaign (Oct. 23-26, 2008). Currently, Romney holds a seven-point edge among early voters (50% to 43%); because of the small sample, this lead is not statistically significant. At this point four years ago, Obama led John McCain by 19 points (53% to 34%) among early voters.
The overall sample was roughly 1700 voters, only about half the size of Gallup's pool, but resulting in nearly the exact same early voting outcome. In this case, Romney by seven. Gallup found that Obama led McCain by 15 points in early tallies at this stage in 2008; Pew puts the gap at 19 points, so their 2012 numbers represent a 26-point swing to the GOP ticket. That's...not insignificant. But what about in the swing states? The Washington Post reports that Obama has the lead in most (but not all) of the contested battlegrounds, but that Romney is hugely outpacing McCain's 2008 numbers. In brief, Republicans are narrowing the gap in Nevada, North Carolina and Iowa (where one new state poll gives Romney a slight overall lead, while another shows Obama winning). Romney is doing quite well in Colorado, where the GOP is actually leading Democrats, very much unlike last cycle. In Florida, Democrats have a small edge in the early totals, but nowhere near their 2008 levels:
Democrats hold a narrow lead (43 percent to 41 percent) and are not on pace to match their 46-37 advantage from 2008. We are through four days of the eight-day period for in-person early voting, and while Democrats gained big on the first two days (Saturday and Sunday), they were unable to keep that pace on Monday and Tuesday. Democrat netted 73,000 vote from the first two days, but gained 28,000 votes on Monday and just 16,000 votes on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Republicans keep building their absentee lead, which stands at 70,000 votes. While Democrats won the combined early vote (absentee plus in-person) by more than 360,000 votes in 2008, they currently lead by about 49,000. That edge will grow over the next four days as Democrats build their in-person early voting lead (many more people vote in-person than absentee), but it’s unlikely to approach anywhere near 360,000.
The Romney campaign said today that they expect to win Florida's election day voters by double digits. In Virginia, counties that Obama won last time have seen a dramatic drop-off in absentee balloting; absentee "turnout" in Republican areas has slowed a bit, but not as much as Democrat territory. Finally, there's Ohio. Public polling shows Obama with a large lead, but there's no way to verify that. Republicans say the raw numbers don't bear out that big Obama advantage:
“The Gallup numbers nationally confirm what we think is happening here in Ohio,” says one Romney official. “It’s two things. One, their margin of victory in early voting is greatly diminished — drastically diminished. And two, they are having a very difficult time generating enthusiasm among young people.” Asked for evidence to support those claims, the official cited a Romney tally showing absentee and early voting is ten percent higher in counties McCain won in 2008 than in counties Obama won. He also pointed to sluggish early voting in the Toledo area, which Obama won in ’08, and particularly energetic early voting in the Cincinnati area, which McCain won. In addition, the official argues that Republicans are “outperforming our share of voter registration in absentee requests and early votes” and that the GOP has “closed the gap on Democrats’ historical absentee and early vote advantage for 20 of the past 21 days.”
Has that gap closed enough to stem Obama's pre-election day tide and tee up a Romney win at the ballot box day-of? The answer to that question, ladies and gents, may very well determine the 2012 presidential election. One alternate route to 270 for Romney involves Wisconsin, which was tied as of late last week. Then came Marquette's latest poll, which shows Obama ahead by eight -- a seven-point jump in approximately one week. Wisconsin insiders smell a sampling rat. Even so, just when you think Wisconsin may be slipping away (I've heard the opposite from folks on the ground there, by the way), an elected Democrat says this:
Hancock even broke news on that Wisconsin trip, telling voters if the election were to be held right now the president would lose Wisconsin and its coveted 10 electoral votes. ... “We have not turned out the vote early,” Hancock told the newspaper. “The suburbs and rural parts of Wisconsin – the Republican base – are voting. President Obama’s base has yet to go vote. We’ve got to get our people to go vote.”
No, no! False, protests Team Obama. I guess we'll wait and see won't we?
UPDATE - Rasmussen still has the Badger State race knotted at 49 apiece.