As of Monday afternoon, The New York Times’ poll guru Nate Silver gives the president a more than 86 percent chance of being re-elected. Legendary analysts Stan Greenberg and James Carville are also predicting victory for Barack Obama. Business Insider’s Joe Weisenthal is predicting a win for the Democrats based on the good economic news that’s come in over the past few months and the fact that the losers usually pick apart the polls trying to explain why they’re going to win.
There are Republicans who see certain victory in the crosstabs of the polls—Michael Barone, George F. Will and Peggy Noonan. But when you’ve been wrong about every major issue in the past decade, how will one more bad prediction hurt you?
If you’re like me, you’re torn between giddy confidence that all observable data is pointing to an Obama victory and a churlish fear that the GOP can pull off some sort of subversion of the voters’ will— à la 2000.
Something could wrong on November 6 and throw the White House back to the party of 9/11, Tora Bora, Iraq, Katrina and financial crisis. Here’s how that could happen:
1. The polls are all wrong.
The president’s lead in national polls is razor thin—.4 percent. But this election will be decided in three states: Ohio, Nevada and Wisconsin. In Ohio, the president leads by 3 percent. In Nevada, he’s up by 2.8 percent, and the reliable Ralston Reports that called Harry Reid’s unlikely victory over Sharron Angle thinks the president will win by 4 percent. In Wisconsin—the home state of Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan—the president is up by 4.2 percent.
What are Republicans seeing in these polls that gives them hope? First they quibble with the sample size, which is Democrats up by between 1 and 8 percent. They expect the electorate to closely resemble 2010 when there was almost no discernible Democratic turnout advantage. They fail to recognize that Republican Party identification is way down since 2008, thus Romney is doing very well with “independents.” Independents will settle this election, they claim. John Kerry won independents in 2004, that didn’t settle the election.
But as we’ve said: If the polls are wrong, they’re probably underestimating the president’s support.
2. Some major shenanigans.
You’ve probably heard about the “emergency” software updates that Ohio’s Secretary of State had installed in the past few weeks, just as before the 2004 election. From this news it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where the machines were fixed for Bush then and they will be fixed for Romney in this election. If that’s true, there’s no hope except a Justice Department investigation that will come too late.
However, we know for sure that in 2004 thousands of voters left the lines because they were so long. This is an observable problem that seems to be happening again. And it could definitely affect this election.
3. Voter suppression works.
Since 2010, the GOP has been targeting Democratic constituencies with laws that make it more difficult to vote. The federal courts have thrown out most of these laws, but the confusion lingers. In Ohio and Florida, early voting has been cut back. Voters had to wait hours to vote this past weekend. If turnout is anything like 2008, the lines will be long and unbearable for many.
4. Citizen United changed everything.
More than 80 percent of the money spent by “dark money” non-profits that don’t have to name their donors went to help Republicans. These shady groups were legal before Citizens United. Now that corporations and individuals can contribute unlimited amounts of money to Super PACs, this flood of cash could change the course of the election with thousands of commercials, mail pieces and robocalls. Because the spending is so unpredictable and vast, perhaps its effects are being missed by conventional polls.
5. You don’t vote.
Maybe the good polling news has made us all lackadaisical. Maybe, just maybe, millions of Obama supporters will stay home and give Mitt Romney what he’s dreamed of his whole life—the White House. Can you imagine that?
So have you voted yet?
Photo credit: AP Photo/Susan Walsh