Decision 2012 – JMCEL’s August 16 Presidential scorecard

Part 1: Summary Statistics

  • President Obama job approval – last 30 days: 47-50% approve/disapprove (was 47-49% approve/disapprove)
  • Generic Congressional Vote – last 30 days: 44-42% Republican (was 44-42% Republican)
  • Congressional retirements (including defeats): 66 (55 in the House and 11 in the Senate)
  • Congressional Primary defeats: 13 (12 in the House and 1 in the Senate)

Part 2: Projections (based on average of last 30 days of polling where states have held their primaries)

US Senate: 48 Democrats, 48 Republicans, 1 Independent, 3 Tossups (was 49-47-1 Democrat in last scorecard)

  • Projected Republican gains in Missouri, Nebraska and North Dakota
  • Republican held seat in Indiana too close to call
  • Democratic held seats in Montana and Virginia too close to call
  • Republican held seat in Maine has an Independent in the race who is staying above 55% in polling
  • (Note: 6 out of 33 Senate contests have not yet had their party primaries, so we are not in a position to call those races).

Governor: 30 Republicans, 19 Democrats, 1 Independent (was 30-19 Republican in last scorecard)

  • Projected Republican gain in North Carolina
  • (Note: 3 out of 11 Governor’s races do not have the party nominees selected yet, so we are not in a position to call those races).

Part 3: How we call a state – President, Governor, Senate

We believe that the best way to make our state by state calls in the Presidential race is to look at the actual percentage President Obama is receiving in the polls (and NOT the margin by which President Obama leads (or trails) Mitt Romney in any poll). There is a simple reason for this: when you’re talking about a controversial incumbent, those who are not explicitly supporting him in the polls will almost certainly end up voting for Romney on Election Day. Therefore, we have been compiling poll results by state and taking the average of that state’s poll results for the last 30 days. In the process of doing so, we have also considered Obama’s 2008 showing as a yardstick. Here are our criteria (which will be similar for statewide races for Governor or Senator):

(1) Safe Democratic/Obama or safe Republican/Romney (dark blue/red) – if no polls have been conducted within the last 30 days for that state, a 2008 Obama (or McCain) percentage of 60% or above gets this rating. If polls have been conducted, an Obama (or Romney) average of 50% or more gets this classification;

(2) Lean Democratic/Obama or lean Republican/Romney (light blue/red) – if no polls have been conducted within the last 30 days for that state, a 2008 Obama (or McCain) percentage between 53-59% gets this rating. If polls have been conducted, an Obama (or Romney) average percentage of 49% or less with a lead of 3 or more points will get this classification;

(3) Tossup (yellow) – if there was polling done, a candidate leads by less than 3 points or the 2008 election results had the winning candidate (Obama or McCain) receiving 52% or less;

(4) Senate/gubernatorial primary has not been held yet (or, no polls have been publicly released) (gray)

(5) No Senate/gubernatorial race in 2012 for this state (black)


Part 4: Presidential Scorecard (270 electoral votes required to win): Obama 257, Romney 191, Undecided 90 (prior scorecard: 271-191 Obama)

Presidential election as of August 16








Senate election as of August 16








Gubernatorial election as of August 16








The surprise pick of Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) has energized the conservative base, and with his views about the federal budget/entitlement spending, there will be a fairly good contrast between the two sides in the November election. Now that election season is upon us with the conclusion of the Olympics, there has been some movement in the polls to Romney, which was also echoed by the slight downtick in Obama’s approval ratings during the past week.

Given the polling that was conducted last week, we have changed our scorecard ratings in four states: in New Mexico and Wisconsin (the Ryan selection obviously helped), “solid Democrat” is now “leans Democrat.” In Ohio, the polls have tightened substantially, leading us to move this state from “leans Democratic” to “tossup.” The only bright spot for the President was that in New Hampshire, we moved that state from “tossup” to “leans Democratic.”

The next chance Mitt Romney has to make an impression on voters is his acceptance speech on August 30. After that, the Democrats hold their convention September 3-6, but the first debate will not be until October 3 – about the time early voting starts in some states.  This makes paid advertising and candidate messaging crucial during the month of September.

If you were to focus only on the Obama-Romney numbers, it would seem that Obama is in a decent position electorally; when you account for the undecided vote as a sort of “hidden Romney vote”, the picture looks less favorable. Especially when you overlay that against the 2008 Obama percentages.

In the “solid Obama” (dark blue) states that have conducted polling, Obama’s average share of the vote relative to 2008 has dropped from 60 to 52% – an 8% “plunge.”  This drop has been remarkably consistent over the past few months, and suggests there is a sort of ceiling here for the Obama campaign. Granted, an 8 point “plunge” in these states would likely not cost Obama any of these states (which cast 156 electoral votes), it does put him in an “underwater” situation in less Democratic terrain. Furthermore, the fact that Obama’s poll position is only greater than 52% in 3 of these states (Massachusetts. New York, and Vermont) is further evidence that his support is more tentative than it was in 2008.

Once you look at the “lean Obama” states (light blue), you again see a plunge in support relative to 2008 has plunged from 56 to 49%.  Furthermore, Mitt Romney’s average in these states (worth 77 electoral votes) is 43%. This is a modest uptick in support from last week’s 48-41% Obama average. When you consider that (for now, anyway), we’re using 30 days’ worth of polling, movements towards a candidate are not as noticeable, so it’s possible that the Romney performance is understated in our poll averages.

In the tossup states, the “Obama plunge” is from 52 to 47%, and Romney is averaging 46%. Again, this is a “closing of the gap”, as Romney was 2 points behind in these states last week. It’s only a matter of time before some of these states move into the Republican category.

Finally, in the “leans Romney” or “solid Romney” states, the plunge is from 43 to 37%. Because of the greater Republican intensity this year, any hopes Obama has for carrying Georgia and/or Arizona are not realistic this time around.

Since we believe that most of those not explicitly for Obama will likely break towards Mitt Romney in the end, if we were to assume that the states where Obama is not polling at least 50% are Romney states, he (Romney) could receive up to 360 electoral votes (270 required to win).  There is another factor favoring Romney which we haven’t explicitly discussed: intensity of support for either candidate. Given that Republicans appear to be more passionate about this election than Democrats are (a complete role reversal relative to the 2008 race), it’s fairly likely that pollsters are sampling Democratic leaning voters who are not likely to vote in November. In fact, a recent Suffolk/USA Today poll noted this electoral reality.

Part 5: Primary Results/Upcoming Events

The “primary marathon” that started on August 7 continued this week. Hawaii held its primary last Saturday, while this past Tuesday night, Connecticut, Florida, Minnesota, and Wisconsin held their primaries. While the restlessness of Republican primary voters cost 24 year incumbent Cliff Stearns (R-Florida) his seat (he foolishly sat on $2 million dollars he had on hand and lost by less than 1,000 votes), “establishment” candidate Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin was able to prevail over two more activist conservative opponents in the primary who split 54% of the primary vote between them.

The higher turnover of incumbents this year is noteworthy, however. The last time there was a “throw out the bums” election was in 1992,  when 15 incumbents were defeated in the primary. This year, 13 incumbents have lost so far. When you consider that (thanks to reapportionment) 4 more incumbents are guaranteed to lose their primaries in remaining primary contests, we are talking about a pretty substantial primary turnover of 17 incumbents. And since 9 states still have not held their primaries, there may be another upset or two lurking out there.

Next week is relatively quiet: Wyoming is holding its primary, and Georgia is holding runoffs. After that, three primaries (Alaska, Arizona, and Vermont) will be held on August 28. Primary season then concludes in early September, although Louisiana is holding its primary in conjunction with Presidential voting in November.