Can Obama lose the election?

Patricio Navia

Buenos Aires Herald, September 25, 2012


Depending on the turnout among key voting blocs, Romney can still benefit from a sufficiently low and selective turnout in battleground states to pull a surprise victory on November 6.


Early in the campaign, Romney had a lead only on economic issues.  Obama campaign spent extensively over the summer questioning Romney’s economic credentials. Obama sought to portray Romney as a business elitist who cares more about money than workers. The polemic statement made by Romney at a fundraiser held in May at a wealthy campaign contributor’s house in Florida was so damaging for Romney precisely because it confirmed the accusations that were made against him by the Democrats.


By claiming that 47% of Americans pay no income taxes and are dependent on the government, Romney hurt his own campaign in two different ways.  First, he alienated a key voting bloc. Low middle class Americans who have suffered more than any other group from high unemployment in the manufacturing sector were the target of the Romney campaign. The Republican candidate’s message has been directed to those who are hurting in these difficult economic times. In making his comments, Romney’s might have been thinking about Americans who are dependent on welfare and those who are not part of the formal labor sector. However, by dividing the population into those who pay income taxes and those who don’t, Romney put in the category of “dependent” Americans different groups of people.  One of those groups is comprised by Americans who are unemployed—or underemployed—and who are currently receiving government aid because they are unemployed as a result of the economic hardships.


Second, Romney’s comments also hurt his standing among middle class Americans—the other 53%--who are concerned about the economy and have doubts about President Obama’s ability to lead the nation back into prosperity.  Middle class Americans are moderate and focus on the bottom line. They want a president who will solve problems by leading Democrats and Republicans into pragmatic compromise.  Romney’s highly dogmatic and ideologically-charged statement has hurt his standing among moderates. Thus, Romney lost votes both among the 47% that he defines as dependent on the government and also among the other 53%.  In fact, his statements hardly earned him any votes anywhere.  People who shared that viewed were already likely Romney voters.


The aftershocks of the news produced by the leaked video have further eroded the already weak Romney campaign. The Republican candidate has stood by his words, but has failed to transform the statement into a debate over the role of government in the lives of Americans. Since the focus has been on his comments, Romney has had plenty of free television time to make his case.  However, he has failed to articulate a position that can serve as a new launching platform for his troubled campaign. Every problem is a campaign opportunity. By staying on the defensive, Romney has failed to use the scandal as an opportunity to revitalize his moribund campaign.


In the daily reporting of polls, President Obama has widened his lead.  If the election were held today, Obama would win with 332 votes in the Electoral College (he only needs 270 to secure the presidency). Obama leads in 11 of the 12 battleground states.


However, Romney still has a chance to revert the course of the election.  Expected Republican voters are more likely to vote than Democratic leaning voters.  Thus, lower turnout would end up favoring Romney.  As Americans increasingly believe that Obama will win, turnout among likely Obama voters might decrease on election-day. Naturally, if Republicans believe their candidate will lose, their turnout will also be lower. However, if past electoral patterns hold, Republican-inclined voters should present higher turnout than likely Obama voters.  That could result in surprise victories for Romney in key battle ground states. 


Republicans also have more money than Obama. Although Romney has less money than Obama, Republicans count with more super-PAC resources. That will give them an edge in televised advertisement in battleground states.  Not surprisingly, the Republican camp is focusing its efforts—and spending—in five states that Romney needs to win to become president.  If Romney can win in North Carolina (15 electoral college votes), Florida (29), Ohio (18) and Virginia (13), he will only need to win in any of the smaller three states (Nevada, Colorado and Iowa) to get the 270 votes he needs.  A low turnout among minorities and lower class voters can give Romney a victory in those four states. Then, Romney would also need to win in any of the smaller states, Nevada, Colorado and Iowa, to secure the presidency.


The statistics do not favor Romney.  The Republican candidate needs a very special set of circumstances to turn this election around. It looks increasingly unlikely that what did not happen in all of 2012 will miraculously happen in the last five weeks of the campaign. Still, if turnout is low enough, then Romney might still have a chance to pull a big surprise and win the election by a very small margins in the Electoral College.