Ohio is easily the most important state for both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney as they head towards election day. It has clearly become the most frequently polled state, with polls showing either a dead even race or an Obama blowout win. Yet the details of the polls are far more interesting than what the simple results show, and nearly half of the polls show a turnout scenario favoring the Democrats that has never been seen before, while the rest mirror a rosy – and unlikely – 2008 turnout scenario.
The mainstream media is pointing to a number of polls and declaring that Obama has all but won Ohio. But, as has been the case all election in many state and national polls, the assumptions within those polls are highly unrealistic. That the media run with the incredibly unlikely numbers without true analysis is either journalistic laziness, or pure bias. Take a look at six recent Ohio polls and the oversampling of Democrats, and keep in mind that turnout favored Republicans by one in the most recent election (2010), while turnout favored Democrats by an average of just one point over the last eight years (Corresponding Obama lead is in parenthesis):
Gravis: Democratic Sample +10.3 (Obama +1)
ARG: Democratic Sample +10 (Obama +1)
NBC/Marist: Democratic Sample +10 (Obama +7)
Washington Post/ABC News: Democratic Sample +7 (Obama +8)
FOX News: Democratic Sample +6 (Obama +7)
Ohio Newspaper Organization: Democratic Sample +6 (Obama +5)
On average, these six polls have a sample that is 8.2 points greater than the Republican sample. The result is an average Obama lead of just over four points. Remember, the average Democratic voter advantage over the past four years has been roughly one point. In those eight years, a Democratic advantage of eight was held just once - in 2008 - when Obama held every possible advantage (money, advertising, media, enthusiasm) tilted his way. Yet three of these polls show a never-seen-before Democratic advantage of an incredible 10 points.
In 2000, Ohio voted for George W. Bush by a 3.5 point margin, and then once again by just over two points four years later. In 2008, it swung to Barack Obama, who won the state by a 4.5 point margin. Despite the historic nature of the victory, the margin of victory was only slightly larger than George W. Bush's initial win. In 2010, the momentum swung back to Republicans as John Kasich defeated an incumbent Democrat by 2.5 points and Rob Portman (long rumored Romney running-mate) won by an uncompetitive 18 points.
Over the last four election cycles, Republicans had higher turnout in 2010 (1 point) and 2004 (5 points), while Democrats had turnout victories in 2008 (8 points) and 2006 (3 points). On average over the past four years, Democrats have had an edge of just 1.2 points over the Republicans.
Since Obama's election in 2008, Democrats have been losing affiliated voters by the tens of thousands in crucial swing states, while Republicans and Independents have gained voters. Combine this with Romney's ability to financially compete with -- or even surpass -- Obama down the stretch, his campaign's get-out-the-vote operation, a reduced voter enthusiasm gap, and the fact that this is simply not 2008, and the media-proposed scenario of greater turnout for Ohio Democrats than 2008 is highly unrealistic. And remember, more Republicans voted in 2010 than Democrats, the most recent election from which data is available. A repeat of that scenario is much more realistic than one in which Democrats turn out in greater numbers than in even 2008.
What is even more telling -- and ignored -- in these polls is how well Romney is doing with Independents. If turnout among Republicans and Democrats is relatively even (or with a slight edge to Democrats), then the Independent vote could be the deciding factor. George W. Bush lost Independents by 19 points in 2004. Barack Obama won Independents by eight points in 2008. In every Ohio poll where the data was available, Mitt Romney was winning Independents, often by large margins.
The Ohio Newspapers Organization had Romney winning Independents by a whopping 28 points. ARG followed up with a 16 point Indie lead for Romney, while FOX News had it at 4 points, and a fourth poll by Purple Strategies had it at 10 points. All polls showed a double digit swing among Independents toward Romney, and yet he somehow is losing by more than McCain did in 2008? If the polls are accurate, and Romney is winning Independents by these margins, then the Romney campaign would have to feel pretty good about their chances. And the media? They should just feel embarrassed.