With just over three weeks to go, President Obama finds himself in a very unfamiliar position. He is losing in many national and state polls. In fact, this week, Romney pulled ahead in the widely-cited RealClearPolitics average of polls. He leads Obama by just over 1% in the index. Its a stunning reversal from October 2008, when Obama enjoyed clear leads in every national poll conducted that month.
The last time any poll should McCain with a lead was toward the end of September.
Of the 33 polls included in the RCP Average for October 2004, John Kerry only showed a lead in 4. Two others showed the race tied. Bush led in every other October poll and always led in the RCP Average.
Two Presidents running for reelection. They are from two different parties, but they had one thing in common, they never trailed in the RCP Average in October.
This goes a long way to explain why I'm convinced the overwhelming majority of polls are overestimating Obama's support, even when they show him trailing. With a few exceptions, the media polls this year have been using polling samples to mimic the composition of the electorate in 2008. By 7 points, Democrats bested Republicans in voting. Its the biggest advantage Democrats have had in at least the last thirty years.
The 2008 election wasn't so much a political campaign, but a cultural phenomena. Tens of thousands of people turned up to watch Obama accept the Democrat nomination in Denver. Young and minority voters were engaged like never before. Republicans were unusually dispirited, weary from 8 years of Bush and a candidate unpopular with large numbers of base voters.
Campaigns have their own rhythm and their own momentum. A look at the October polls from 2004 and 2008 shows Obama firmly in command in his race and Bush almost always ahead and gathering strength. His reelection saw a big uptick in GOP voting, not as pronounced as Obama's, but significant. If Obama is lagging his 2008 performance, how will he replicate his huge turnout advantage?
We're entering the phase of the election where campaigns start to draw strength from their own success. A sense of winning generates enthusiasm and energy and can have a dramatic impact on turnout. Four years ago, Obama's supporters could not wait to vote, while GOP voters slunk to the polls.
Obama's reelection effort is probably doomed if he doesn't turn in a winning performance in Tuesday's debate. Biden's performance last night probably stopped some of the bleeding, but it didn't cauterize the wound left from Obama's first debate performance. Without a clear knockout, the trends will get away from him.
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