Two weeks after the Democratic National Convention what first looked like a bounce in the polls in favour of President Obama now looks like a trend.
The most recent HuffPost Pollster tracking model, which approximates national trends from an aggregate of all available public polls, suggests President Obama now leads Governor Romney by 48.7 per cent to 44.5 per cent, a gap of more than four points.
Coming into the conventions in Tampa and Charlotte, the lead had fluctuated between one and two points.
This trend is also mirrored in key battle ground states, such as Wisconsin, Ohio, Virginia, Florida and North Carolina, where - as the economist David Rothschild has noted - the likelihood of an Obama victory is almost uniformly on the rise (see Graph 1 below).
Interestingly, while it is the overall polling numbers in the battleground states that will determine the final outcome of the presidential race, in the 2012 cycle what is becoming clear is that top-line trends and percentage changes in voter preferences are national patterns rather than local or regional divergences.
As Rothschild notes, if you apply the ranking method, which ranks states in order of their likelihood to vote for one candidate over the other:
“It is unlikely that any state move more than a few points in the ranks.”
Republicans have now all but conceded Pennsylvania, and if Obama can hold Ohio, where he currently has an eight point lead, it is virtually impossible for Romney to find a route to victory.
Below the headline figures, two sets of demographic shifts also seem to be favoring the President. As an analysis by Progress 2050 identifies, “people of colour” are poised to make a more significant impact in 2012 than previously thought. The most up-to-date information from the current population survey indicates the overall minority composition of the electorate increased by three points since 2008, while the percentage of white working-class voters declined by an equal amount.
This growth of ethnically and racially diverse communities translates to potential significant voting power. A full 38.9 per cent of Nevada’s eligible voters are of colour, while the same is true of 34.5 per cent of Florida’s eligible voters, 27.4 per cent of eligible voters in Virginia, and 22.4 per cent of voters in Colorado.
Interestingly, when it comes to the working class white vote, Romney’s national lead of 13 points masks significant regional disparities that work in President Obama’s favour in key battleground states. As a recent report, “Beyond Guns and God: Understanding the complexities of the White Working Class in American” (pdf), by the Public Religion Research Institute indicates, this national average stems from a lead of some 40 points in the South.
However, when it comes to Colorado and Nevada, the lead is reduced to only five points, and in Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, that lead drops to a mere four points. This poor performance is further compounded when one looks at the likelihood different groups will vote. Only 66 per cent of white working class voters say they are certain to vote, as opposed to 87 per cent of college educated peers and 74 per cent of African Americans.
According to a New York Times article by Thomas B. Edsall - author of The Age of Austerity: How Scarcity Will Remake American Politics - among many working class white voters, there is a sense Romney is both anti-worker (at least among those who have been hit by “corporate raider types”) and “completely disconnected from people who work for a living”.
As John Halpin and Ruy Teixeira from the Center for American Progress argue in “The Path to 270 Revisited: The Role of Demographics, Economics and Ideology in the 2012 Presidential Election” (pdf) these personal identification problems have been further compounded by the choice of Paul Ryan as Romney’s running mate. This has effectively ensured the race is no longer exclusively a referendum on President Obama’s stewardship of the economy, but rather a choice between two competing visions of American society and governance.
The Presidential election now looks less like a contest between demography and economy, and more a question of which economic vision is more convincing to the voters. Across the nation, and in key battleground states, post-convention it is the President’s message that appears to be resonating best, and that is helping him consolidate his lead.