My colleague Greg Sargent had a revealing interview with Obama political adviser David Plouffe. Plouffe asserted that President Obama is two to three points ahead in swing states and that, unlike past years, those undecided voters won’t break overwhelmingly for the challenger. The Obama team also thinks the Romney-Ryan welfare ad attack is no big deal. Obama’s approval and ballot numbers are under 50 percent with 100 percent name recognition? Not problematic. Sargent couches the sentiment as “cautiously optimistic,” although the underlying pronouncements are brash, to put it mildly.
I spoke with two Republican pollsters on Tuesday, both of whom found Plouffe’s analysis less than credible. One GOP pollster told me that the assumption about undecided voters is premature. “We have a long way to go in this campaign,” he said. “To assume they have these voters locked up is pure arrogance.”
But what about those assumptions the Obama team is making? Luke Frans, the executive director of Resurgent Republic, pointed out to me that Obama doesn’t have a two to three point lead in key states; Obama’s lead is less than two points in public polling for Colorado, Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Iowa.
As for those undecided voters, it would be extraordinary if they, as Plouffe predicts, break for Obama, especially in states where his job disapproval is higher than his ballot support. Frans says, “If an undecided voter disapproves of the president’s job performance, it’s a more difficult task for Obama to flip this voter back in his favor than for Romney to make the case that he is an acceptable alternative.”
There is also the matter of those states unexpectedly in play, the prime example being Wisconsin, which is now essentially tied in public polling. Frans observes, “There’s also an argument to be made that if Wisconsin is in play, states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire could tighten as well, given some similar demographics. That remains to be seen, but you can’t discount Wisconsin.”
Taking a step back to general trends, it is no secret that Obama is having serious problems with independent voters. (In the latest CNN poll he trails Romney with this group by 10 points.) “Among independents, Obama is stuck in the low 40s on the ballot at best (Resurgent Republic’s latest poll had him at 37% and Democracy Corps polling had 38%),” Frans notes. “This is well off the support he received in 2008 in which he won independents 52-44. His support among voters 18-29 is more in line with 2004 than 2008. Even if Obama does better than Sen. John Kerry and gets between 55-60% of these voters — and that’s a big if given unemployment and underemployment — he’s still underperforming among this group. Obama is also losing white men by a wider margin than 2008.”
Romney supporters and operatives are not so benighted as to think their candidate has this thing sewn up. They believe this is a dog fight, but one in which Romney is better situated to win than at any time previously. They know all too well he needs to boost his appeal with married women, voters whom the campaign thinks it did successfully reach during the Republican National Convention. The gap with Hispanic voters remains problematic. But with Romney closing the likability gap, Romney advisers think the ballot numbers will begin to move as well.
In short, professional pollsters on the right don’t buy what Plouffe is spinning. But does the Obama team? It’s not like arrogance is absent in that camp. It is interesting to note, however, how little the Obama team suggests it must do to win over undecideds. Apparently just the wonderfulness of Obama and the horribleness of Mitt Romney (in the Obama mindset) will be enough. We’ll see about that.
Update: The second sentence was revised to more closely track Plouffe’s spin.