With two trips to Ohio under my belt this general election, I have been able to witness rallies from Marion to Toledo to the historic West Chester rally Friday night, I’ve talked extensively with soft-money groups here about their operations and have been to polling stations, all to get a first-hand account of what exactly is happening in the state that will determine the next President of the United States. Over the years, I’ve frequently reminded my staff and colleagues that only one thing matters at the end of this horserace: the voters. And voters have begun to speak.
Forget the anecdotal items. Using yard signs and bumper stickers to measure anything other than enthusiasm (which is used to recruit votes indirectly) isn’t exactly scientific.
So, let’s do math: 1.3 million people have participated in early voting in Ohio. Party breakdown is tough but manageable. 29 percent of those people voted in the last Democratic primary, while 23 percent voted in the last Republican primary. And the non-primary voting Ohioans are 47 percent of the early vote.
The Oct. 11 NBC/WSJ/Marist Ohio poll had Mitt Romney winning independents 49 to 41, an 8-point advantage. For the sake of this analysis, assume that the 47 percent of early voters who did not vote in a partisan primary are ‘independent’. While a new Marist poll was released just hours ago, it is important to remember that the Oct. 11 poll is when a majority of early ballots were being cast.
That puts early voting looking something like this: President Barack Obama 627,510 votes (48%), Mitt Romney 598,390 (46%) votes, with 54,990 (4%) votes undetermined.
Assuming the worst for Romney – i.e., independents break evenly and Party ID holds up — there is a 6-point early-vote gap. But if Romney has an 8-point advantage (per the NBC/WSJ/Marist poll) among independents, there is a 2-point gap.
This is bad news for Democrats.
In 2010, Governor Strickland and the unions had a 5.6-percent edge against former Congressman John Kasich in early voters. When it came to Election Day voting, voters preferred Kasich 51% to 49%. The election resulted in Kasich defeating the incumbent Strickland 49% to 47%. Early-vote totals and polls this year suggest something very similar could happen Tuesday night.
The pattern isn’t exclusive to the Republican wave in 2010. Four years ago, Obama earned a double-digit margin amongst early voters. The Columbus Dispatch put Obama’s early-vote advantage at 14 points; other sources reported that advantage as high as 22 points.
Democrats have always won early voting. It’s upon that gap that their election hopes rest. Democrats and President Obama have incorporated that early-vote gap into their assumptions for 2012.
The Obama campaign has two things going for it. 83% of Ohio voters are either female, minority or under 40; and the Democrats’ $300 million field operation worries Republicans. But at the end of the day, the math shows that Obama’s strengths haven’t translated to a decisisve advantage in actual votes. In fact, the supposed advantages enjoyed by Ohio Democrats may be mythical, part of a media narrative created by the president’s campaign in an attempt to sustain what’s being dubbed as the “Obama firewall.” Without the overwhelming early-vote margins Obama enjoyed in 2008, and with no evidence that the Democrats’ field operation has any “secret weapon” in the works, the myth is not stronger than the math.
Adrian Gray penned a Politico opinion piece on the fuzzy math Democrats are touting in Ohio and two days ago National Review’s Jim Geraghty noted heavily Democratic Cuyahoga county was tallying up below everyone’s expectations.
Voters are saying something very different than a majority of polling outfits, which are weighting turnout in favor of the Democrats. That’s plus or minus the margin of being wrong.