Why do people believe Florida and Virginia are sure things for Mitt Romney?

October 30, 2012

Over the past two weeks, conventional wisdom -- at least in Washington -- has cemented around the idea that the swing states of Florida and Virginia have moved strongly in Mitt Romney's direction and that he is likely to carry both of them in a week's time.

That conventional wisdom has led many -- including the Fix -- to conclude that Ohio is now the single most important state in the country when it comes to Mitt Romney's electoral math.

But, without Florida and Virginia, Romney may never get to the point, electorally speaking, where Ohio becomes makes or break. And, a look at the polling data in both Florida and Virginia suggest that while both states have moved in Romney's direction over the past month neither are even close to over just yet.

Let's look at where we stand in each state first.

Here's the poll of polls in Florida (courtesy of Huffington Post's Pollster.com) that shows Romney at 48.4 percent and Obama at 47.5 percent:

And here's what the data looks like in Virginia where Pollster.com has it 48 percent for Obama and 47.2 percent for Romney:

In each state, Romney clearly surged in the first two weeks of October -- due, almost certainly, to his strong first debate performance -- but that surge brought him not a clear lead over President Obama but rather a tie or a slight, not statistically significant edge. (Contrast that to where Romney's bump got him in North Carolina where polling averages suggest he has a clear lead.)

And, in the two most recent independent polls in each state, the races appear far from over. CNN polling in Florida showed Romney with 50 percent to 49 percent for President Obama and a Washington Post Virginia poll put Obama at 51 percent to 47 percent for Romney.

So, why do people seem to believe Virginia and Florida are Romney's for the taking?

A few reasons:

1) Both states have historic voting patterns that seem to favor Republicans.  In Virginia, Obama was the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry the Commonwealth since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.  In Florida, Obama's win in 2008 was the first for a Democrat in more than a decade -- although the 2000 election in the Sunshine State, was, um, pretty close.

2) Momentum matters in politics -- particularly at the end of races -- and the Romney trend line has moved up far faster than the Obama one in each state over the past month. But, as is the case nationally, the available data in both Virginia and Florida suggest that Romney's rapid upward movement has slowed (or stopped entirely) over the past week to 10 days.

To be clear, Romney very well could win Florida and Virginia. But, to assume that both states should already be counted in his total misses not only the reality of the numbers cited above but the most basic political smell test: Where is the candidate spending his last days on the trail? Romney is headed to Florida tomorrow for a three-city swing and will also make a stop in Virginia on Thursday -- not trips a candidate takes five days before the election in states that are already safely on his side.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Aaron Blake · October 30, 2012