Presidential election dead heat may come down to turnout

| July 13 2012
Hannah Thoreson

It’s been a big week in polling, both in statewide elections as well as in the Presidential race.

Noted practitioner of the dark arts Karl Rove released one of his Polling News & Notes documents yesterday analyzing Gallup polling trends for the month of July during a handful of relevant election cycles.  For example, in 2008, Obama had a clear lead by the end of July and McCain never really recovered his momentum.  The 2004 election was only truly competitive until George W. Bush earned a narrow lead over John Kerry in July, which he held onto until election day.  July of 1980 was a turning point in which Ronald Reagan took the lead over Jimmy Carter for the first time.

Right now the Presidential race lacks any real sense of clarity.  Polls have consistently showed Mitt Romney and Barack Obama trading back and forth for the lead within the margin of error.

There are a few things that could happen:

1.  Mitt Romney could take the lead as excitement builds for the GOP convention in Tampa.  He may name VP candidate that moves the numbers:  a big name like Condoleeza Rice, or someone who energizes the party base.  Either way, it’s unlikely that the DNC convention will be anything terribly electrifying this year, as plans have repeatedly been scaled back due to a lack of funding.

2.  Obama could continue using the advantages of incumbency to cling to a narrow lead until election day.

3.  Polls could still be within the margin of error on election day, with the outcome determined by turnout.  This is an option that would seem to favor Republicans and Mitt Romney right now.  Gallup’s surveys show that the most energized voters are those over 50 years of age, a demographic that has reacted to some of the Obama administration’s initiatives with borderline hostility.  Meanwhile, other groups who enthusiastically supported Obama in 2008 are unlikely to turn out at the same high percentages once again.  Only 58% of voters between 18 and 29 responded that they will certainly cast a vote in November’s election — 20 points below the population-wide average of 78%.

Certainly there are other potential outcomes, but those are scenarios which seem likely looking at voting trends past and present.

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