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SEPTEMBER 14, 2012 _________________________________________________________________________________________________________ With the political conventions behind us, we head into the final phase of the 2012 election cycle with Obama maintaining his year-long advantage over Mitt Romney. As the current turmoil in the Middle East demonstrates, a lot of unexpected events can happen in the 53 days leading up to the election. But if history is our guide, the race is already well on its way to being decided before the final votes are cast. Previous elections show that by the time the conventions and fall debates come around most voters have already formed strong opinions about the incumbent president and their willingness to give him four more years. While many voters will revisit their choice in the fall, the more satisfied they are with the incumbent the higher they will set the bar on switching to the challenger. Obamas personal popularity, the fact that more people continue to blame Bush than Obama for our current economic conditions, the overwhelmingly negative view of the Republican Party combined with the underwhelming Romney candidacy, all point to an Obama second term.


Obama started the year in a better position than Romney and little has changed since then. Despite the candidates respective performances and the more than $1 billion spent on the presidential election, the basic contours of the election havent changed since Romney became the inevitable nominee in February. At this point in the campaign, the polling trends suggest that a radical transformation of the current political zeitgeist seems unlikely: 1. Obamas Job Approval Ratings have Held Steady: Obama's job approval rating is 48%, almost identical to his 49% rating in February. (see slide 11) 2. Obama has Maintained a Year-Long Lead in the Race: Obama leads Romney in the horserace by four points, 49% to 45%. (see slide 10) In February, Obama led Romney by five points, (48% to 43%). 3. Almost 9 in 10 Obama and Romney Supporters are Certain about Their Vote: 86% of Obamas supporters say that they are certain to vote for him and 85% of Romney voters are certain of their support. This consolidation of support further reinforces the view that this election is coming to an end. (Washington Post/ABC Poll, September 11, 2012)

Doug Sosnik

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4. Obamas Support has Remained Stable Despite Voter Disappointment with the Direction of the Country: Obama has maintained a steady lead despite voters overwhelming belief that the country is headed in the wrong direction. In February, 30% thought that the country was headed in the right direction; 62% believed that the country was on the wrong track. This weeks national poll numbers mirror those results. However, in a possible sign of future trends for the Obama campaign, yesterday, NBC, the Wall Street Journal and Marist released three new state polls in Florida Ohio and Virginia. In all three polls, at least 42% of respondents said that the country is headed on the right track. This significant uptick is good news for Obama. 5. Voters Still Blame Bush More than Obama for Economic Problems: The public continues to blame Bush more than Obama for the current state of the economy. According to an August 25th Washington Post poll, more than half of voters (54%) blame Bush for the current economic problems in the country, while only 32% blame Obama. 6. Republicans Low Approval Ratings Work Against Romney: The low approval ratings of George Bush and the Republican Party continue to drag down Romney's candidacy. In a CNN poll conducted this summer, voters gave George Bush the lowest favorability ratings (43% favorable/54% unfavorable) of any living president. The most recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that 45% of voters view the Republican Party negatively, while only 36% hold a positive view. (see slide 15) 7. Voters View Obama Favorably: Perhaps most importantly Obama remains a relatively popular public figure with the electorate. This weeks Washington Post/ABC News poll shows Obama with a 52% favorable/45% unfavorable rating. Obamas popularity has remained consistent since an earlier Post/ABC poll in February. 8. Voters Continue to View Romney Unfavorably: Romney has repeatedly failed in his attempts to define himself. He continues to project a distant persona, detached from the problems of ordinary Americans. His failure to connect with his audiences is clear in his 48% unfavorable rating, which continues to outpace his favorable rating of 45%. (see slide 14) More problematic for Romney is that his high unfavorables have been consistent throughout the campaign. In February, when it became clear that he would be the Republican nominee, the Washington Post/ABC poll showed him with a 37% favorable/49% unfavorable rating. Put simply, the Obama/Romney poll numbers over the last year confirm Obamas general appeal with the public. At the same time, the numbers demonstrate Romneys failure to connect with the electorate. Voters dont believe that Romney can relate to their own hopes, fears and aspirations.

Doug Sosnik

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Even a majority of Romneys own supporters are more motivated by who Romney isnt than by who he is. This weeks Washington Post poll found that only 45% of Romney voters are motivated to vote for him, while 50% are casting an anti-Obama vote. The Post poll found that 75% of Obama voters are supporting him because he is the nominee, while 22% of them are casting an anti-Romney vote. The Washington Post poll also looked at the candidates likeability and their ability to relate to people. In each one, Obama crushed Romney. Obama enjoys a 34-point advantage on likeability and friendliness (61% to 27%), a 15-point advantage on which candidate voters trust to do a better job of advancing the interests of the middle class (53%/38%), and a 10-point advantage (50%/40%) on who better understands peoples problems. On the question of which candidate people would most like to have over for dinner, Obama beats Romney by 19 points (53%/33%).

Throughout the year there has been a steady mantra by the Romney campaign that it was poised to turn this election around. First he needed to lock up the nomination (in one of the weakest primary fields in history) before he could begin engaging Obama to get to the higher political ground. As we moved to the summer, he was going to use the selection of his vice presidential running mate to restart his candidacy. Then, it was going to be the convention where he was going to change the dynamics of the race. Now, its the debates that are supposed to change everything. He is quickly running out of runway to turn the election around. All thats left is the claim that his campaign will out-organize the Obama operation on the ground in the final days of the campaign. Meanwhile, in the midst of all the posturing, early voting got underway in North Carolina last week. Another 31 states, plus the District of Columbia, are conducting in-person early voting sometime this month or next. By Election Day, one in three voters will have cast a ballot. All of this is happening now as Romney pledges yet again to reboot his campaign. Romneys failure to rise to the occasion has diminished interest in his candidacy as evidenced by the fact that 5.4 million more people tuned in to watch Obamas acceptance speech than Romneys. Even though the national polls continue to show the presidential race neck-and-neck, the surveys mask Obamas relative strength when it comes to the allocation of Electoral College votes. Obama's path to secure the 270 electoral votes he needs to win is far easier than Romney's. A state-by-state electoral analysis continually demonstrates Obamas decisive advantage heading into the final eight weeks.

Doug Sosnik

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Most political commentators currently give Obama a minimum of 237 electoral votes. That leaves him only 33 votes short of 270 among a pool of nine remaining tossup states with 110 electoral votes. Obama has multiple paths to gain the remaining 33 votes. (see slide 18) Meanwhile, Romneys potential paths to 270 are much more limited. (see slide 19) Current polling shows Romney trailing in most of these battleground states he needs to win. (see slide 20) In six of the nine swing states, the economy has rebounded, with the unemployment rate below the 8.1% national rate. The most recent numbers show unemployment at 5.3% in Iowa, 5.4 % in New Hampshire, 5.9% in Virginia, 7.2% in Ohio and 7.3% in Wisconsin. We are entering the stage of the campaign where none of the boasting about contesting states matters unless its backed up by significant expenditures in key media markets. This week, NBCs First Read analyzed spending by Obama and Romney and their so-called independent support groups since March 19. They found that of the $575 million booked on television and radio for the general elections the greatest expenditures have gone to three states that would seal an Obama victory: Florida (21 EV)-$117.4 million, Ohio (18 EV)-$112.1 million and Virginia (13 EV)-$85.7 million. The Obama campaign has pinned down Romney in states that he should have put away by now. At the same time, Romneys campaign has burned through a lot of money in Obama states that it failed to make competitive, leaving Romney in a much more defensive position in the final weeks. In North Carolina, a state which is pretty far down on Obamas list of must win states, Romney has been forced to book $12.5 million dollars more than Obama in paid media simply to hold on to his tenuous lead. In Pennsylvania, Romney has spent $3 million more than Obama in a state that most people no longer consider competitive. Similarly, in Michigan, a state that seems well outside of Romneys reach, his campaign has spent $8 million on media to Obamas $10,500. So far, Romney has booked $7.6 million dollars of media in Wisconsin, while Obama and his supporters have only booked $535,000 (although the campaign just announced that it will buy an additional $670,000 of media time in the state).

The closer the vote in the presidential election, the less likely that the race will impact the congressional races. However, if either candidate opens up a significant lead, it could impact down ballot races as it did in 2008. In 2010, Republicans picked up 63 seats in the House and only six seats in the Senate, giving them momentum going into this cycle. The current landscape makes it likely that Republicans will retain control of the U.S. House of Representatives, albeit with smaller margins. The big 2010 gains and the recent reapportionment and redistricting process have made it difficult for Democrats to alter the map.

Doug Sosnik

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Things look less certain for Republicans in the U.S. Senate, where Republicans are squandering their chance at control for the second cycle in a row. A combination of timid leadership, poor candidate recruitment and the divisive tea party primaries have all contributed to a weaker than expected group of Republican general election candidates. Republicans entered this cycle with an overwhelming opportunity to take the Senate, with Democrats forced to defend 23 of the 33 seats up for election, with five in bright red states. However, as the Tea Party gains control of the Republican caucus in the Senate, Republican leaders, out of fear for their own survival, have stepped aside and allowed second tier and extreme right candidates to win nominations, thereby opening the door for Democrats to hold their majority this November. This cycle doesnt resemble many of the previous ones when it was fairly easy to predict the most competitive races six months out. These elections have been full of surprises in large part due to mistakes and weak performances by candidates in both parties. Despite the problems, Republicans still have a reasonable chance to take the Senate if theyre able to hold their incumbents and take out the Democrats in red states. In order for the Republicans to regain control of the Senate, they would need to pick up a net of four seats if Obama wins (and three if Romney is elected). (see slide 21) Increasingly, the Senate elections are reflecting the results at the top of the ticket. But in four of the seats held by Democrats in red states North Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri and Montana where the Republicans had previously been heavily favored to win, the races have become very competitive. Democrats are now favored to win in Missouri, and the races in North Dakota and Montana are both considered toss ups at this point. Even red state Indianas open seat, currently held by a Republican, is considered in play. Aside from these races, Democrats must defend a number of seats, including toss up races in Virginia and Wisconsin, and safer seats in Ohio, Florida, Hawaii and New Mexico where they are favored to win. Republicans caught a bad break when Olympia Snowe (ME) retired. Its doubtful that they can hold on to that seat in the fall. However, Linda McMahon has shown surprising strength in Connecticut, where the race is now considered at least a toss up. In Massachusetts, Scott Brown continues to poll well. And, in Nevada, Republican Senator Hellers race is considered a toss up. The net effect of all the shifting dynamics is that its still possible for either party to take control. But Democrats maintain an advantage so far, significantly outperforming the Republicans for the second cycle in a row.


While party conventions have increasingly become yet another old institution that no longer has the relevance that they did in the past, they do reflect the current state of the two parties. Despite the relative placidity of the current political environment this year, the country is undergoing tremendous change. And these changes will radically alter politics as we know it.
Doug Sosnik

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1. Democrats currently have the three most towering figures in American politics: Obama (if he wins), Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton. The Republicans simply have no equal. Of course, neither Barack Obama nor Bill Clinton is eligible to run for president in 2016, and it remains to be seen if Hillary Clinton will re-enter the fray. Regardless, it is difficult to recall a time when one party had the three most dominant political figures at the same time. 2. Democrats now have the high ground on three issues foreign policy, social issues and taxes that have virtually paralyzed them for the past 50 years. Foreign Policy: While Democrats have been vulnerable on defense since the Vietnam War, Obama has consistently received high marks for his handling of foreign policy. Divisions within the Republican Party have given Obama and the Democrats the first advantage in this area in a generation. The ascendant Club for Growth/Tea Party wing of the Republican Party has veered sharply away from the neocons, who have dominated the Republicans foreign policy agenda. This shift has made it almost impossible for Republicans to speak with one clear voice on these issues. The events this week in the Middle East reinforce Obamas advantage over Romney. Rather than rallying around the president in the midst of turmoil the countrys usual response Romney mistakenly took a confrontational approach regarding the events in Egypt and Libya, calling into question his ability to lead in such a crisis. While some Republicans have supported him, many have not. Social Issues: The country is veering further and further away from the social movement litmus test issues that currently dominate the Republican Party. Gone are the days when Republicans used these wedge issues to put Democrats on the defensive. It is now the Democrats who want to put these issues into play. Republicans long-held positions on gay marriage and womens reproductive health only serve to alienate women and voters under 30, many of whom find the partys hard right views on these issues particularly offensive. Taxes: Since the 1960's, Republicans have always been able to score points by painting Democrats as "tax and spend liberals." While Democrats remain vulnerable on taxes, the vast majority of Americans perceive Republicans as supporting tax cuts for the wealthy and Democrats as fighting for the middle class.

3. The changing demographics forecast the future of American politics. The rapidly changing profile of the country is a ticking time bomb for the Republican Party. If the party doesnt address this problem, it risks becoming a permanent minority.

Doug Sosnik

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The explosive growth in the minority populations means that Republicans can no longer rely on white voters to win national elections. The demographic changes over the last twenty years show just how vulnerable the party has become: In 1992, 87% of the total vote was white. The projections for this years elections are that the percentage of white voters will drop to 72% of all voters. Republicans cant regain their footing by doing more of the same. Its simply not possible to alienate Hispanics - the fastest growing group of voters in this country and still hope to be successful in American politics in the future. The demographic changes sweeping the southwest and intermountain west make it only a matter of time before many of these states go Democratic. In the short term, Nevada and New Mexico are trending increasingly Democratic (despite having Republican governors who are both Hispanic). Taking the longer view, Colorado, Arizona and even Texas will become democratic states in the future. 4. The political and generational take-over of the Republican Party by the Club for Growth/Tea Party wing of the party is nearly complete. This is the first real transformation of the GOP since 1976 when Ronald Reagan ushered in a new era in the party. During that time, conservative leaders from southern and southwestern states took power from the more moderate establishment party leaders from the northeast and midwest. If Romney loses in 53 days, the Republicans will chalk it up to the partys failure to nominate a "true conservative." When parties lose the White House twice in a row, the recriminations are more severe, resulting in a much stronger pull to the base of the party. By definition, everyone - and thus no one - will be in charge of the party. The party system will reward politicians who tilt most to the right and punish Republicans who behave like moderates and try to compromise in order to get things done. 5. Over the longer term, Republicans appear to have far more depth and talent rising through their ranks as evidenced by the quality of their speaker line-up during the convention. Despite their failure to come out of the convention with a bump in the polls, the convention did serve to showcase the impressive talent that is emerging within the Republican Party. Theres no question that Democrats put on the better show, with a compelling line-up of speakers. But the convention underscored just how few Democratic elected officials are poised to take over the mantel of power after Obama and the Clintons leave the scene. The Republicans dominance in races throughout the country in the 2010 elections eviscerated the Democrats farm teams in state after state, making the partys political comeback far more difficult. In the short-term Democrats face a thin bench across the country.

Doug Sosnik

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6. Republicans stand the chance of controlling Congress for the rest of the decade if they don't screw it up. Their 2010 House gains give them a structural and numerical advantage. However, the leadership will have to figure out how to harness the extreme elements that have taken over their party caucus in order to maintain the majority. In the Senate, despite Republicans missed opportunities to improve their standing over the last two cycles, they are still well-positioned to take the Senate in 2014 when Democrats must defend 20 of the 33 seats up for election. Of these 20 seats, six are in red states. And its possible that four to six incumbents could choose to retire rather than face difficult re-election campaigns. If Obama wins a second term, it will only complicate Democrats ability to hang on to their majority. Historically, midterms that take place during a presidents second term usually prove difficult for the party in power. 7. Republicans are also well-positioned to continue to dominate state houses and legislatures across the country through the decade. It is difficult to overstate how much damage Democrats suffered in 2010 and how much it cost the party in terms of governorships and control of state legislatures, as well as the next generation of Democratic leaders across the country. Republicans currently control 29 governorships and both legislative chambers in 25 states. In 16 states, Democrats control both chambers. After winning 680 seats in 2010 the most pickups in any modern era election Republicans now hold more state legislative seats than at any time since 1928.


On November 7th, politicians will temporarily wrap up their daily efforts to feed off the countrys greatest conflicts for political gain. And they will restart the clock on the critical economic decisions that they have managed to put off until after the elections. Then, the real work will begin. Regardless of who wins, the president and Congress will have to deal with some of the greatest challenges of our lifetimes: the economic fiscal cliff that threatens the countrys recovery, persistently high unemployment, a disappearing middle class, and the increasing economic and political instability around the world. The failure of our political institutions to govern in the midst of these crises has created an even greater one. Increasingly, Americans are losing faith in their governments ability to solve the growing problems that the country faces. This year, the publics views of the federal government dropped to the lowest point in 15 years with two out of three expressing an unfavorable view. (see slide 4) If the political dysfunction continues, and politicians fail to work together for the good of the country, the American public will look for leadership outside of our existing institutions.
Doug Sosnik

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