Destination 270

SMU Students Analyze the 2012 Presidential Election

20 Days Out: Florida Leaning Romney but Remains Anyones Game

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This time twenty days from now the entire nation will no longer be anxiously awaiting the final results of the 57th United States presidential election.  Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney’s tumultuous and hard-fought campaigns will have finally come to an end, and each of their respective campaigns will either be reveling in victory or ceding in defeat.

However, as of right now, there is still plenty of work left for both candidates to do, as the nation’s most important swing state is still very much up for grabs.  It’s the infamous Florida, and despite Mitt Romney’s huge surge in polls following the first debate, this state could still be either candidate’s to win.

In a Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald Poll released on October 12th, conducted just after the first presidential debate, the future seemed grim for President Obama in the Sunshine State.  The poll showed Romney with a new 7 point lead over the president after gaining 5 percentage points among undecided’s and 2 percentage points among previously stated Obama supporters. Furthermore, the poll showed the Obama camp losing another 2% of their voters to the undecided category.

It was at this point, just one week ago, that it seemed as though Romney had truly sealed the deal among Florida voters and the state would be painted red on November 6th.

Today, after the bewilderment of the first presidential debate has worn off, the scenario is a little different.  Although pundits and pollsters are still, for the most part, calling Florida for the republicans, it’s with a little more hesitation than it was just one week ago.

Both Gravis Marketing and the democratic firm, Public Policy Polling released their latest polls on Sunday with what I would argue to be some mixed news for both candidates.  Each of the polls listed the current polling average among likely Florida voters to be 49% Mitt Romney and 48% Barack Obama, both with a margin of error of roughly 3.4 percentage points.

At face value, this seems to be good news for Mitt Romney and poorer news for Barack Obama.  However, when examining the larger polling trend, it looks to be the opposite.  Mitt Romney’s much larger lead from last week (3-7 points ahead depending on the poll) has declined and President Obama is no longer as far behind as he was.  Furthermore, each of these two polling averages are still well within the margin of error, making it harder to accurately predict which way the state is truly leaning based on these numbers alone.

Despite the waning gap between President Obama and Mitt Romney in the state, a closer examination into some of the current polling data provides a little more food for thought regarding the speculation around who will take Florida.

The Public Policy Polling firm poll mentioned above provided some valuable insight into what looks to be a large shift among independents in the state.  Despite the Romney’s only marginal lead over Obama in the general poll, he enjoys a much larger lead among independents at 51% to Obama’s 43%.  This is a stark contrast from a few weeks ago when the same polling firm reported Obama at 51% among independents and Romney at 40%.

There is no doubt that the now infamous first debate had at least some influence on this fluctuation within the independent vote. It should be noted, however, that this poll was taken after the Vice Presidential debate, which these same independents believed to have been won by Joe Biden (44%/40%).

Although no data has been released yet regarding voter sentiments post debate two, the fact that Romney maintained such an edge among independents, despite a perceived Biden win, leads me to hypothesize that the independent sentiment will remain rather static in the days ahead.  Given the dire importance of the independent vote in this year’s election, such a statistic definitely gives Mitt Romney an advantage.

Not surprisingly, the candidates seem to be split among the states to key constituencies: seniors and Latinos.

Obama has maintained the lead among Latino’s throughout the entire campaign process, however, in the recent days Mitt Romney has definitely closed in the gap.  The same Public Policy Polling poll has the current distribution among Hispanics being 50% for Obama and 47% for Romney.  As stated before, the Latino population in Florida is, as a whole, much less democratic than the national Latino population.  This is due to the right-leaning tendency of Cuban voters, who make up roughly one third of the Hispanic electorate.

In 2008, Barack Obama won 35% of the Cuban vote in Florida. While this does not look like it will be the case this year based on polling results, many claim that the majority of polls are skewed against the younger, more left-leaning Cubans who were not contacted because they didn’t have access to a landline.  It is believed to be these younger Cubans that gave Obama 35% of their vote in 2008.

President Obama also leads in the Hispanic community on several key issues, despite the fact that 54% of them believe they are “no better off than they were four years ago,” and that Obama “hasn’t fulfilled his promises to the Latino community.” According to an FIU poll, 51% of Florida’s Hispanics believe that President Obama will be better for the economy, and 55% believe he will be better in addressing immigration policy.

Despite Mitt Romney’s acquisition of new Hispanic votes in Florida since the 2008 election, it can be assumed that he definitely burned some bridges early on in the days when he touted his tough stance on immigration.  Although he has made attempts to smooth this position out and evolve it into a more moderate one lately, it seems as though it may be a little too late.

On the other hand, Mitt Romney has continuously polled higher among Florida’s seniors: one of the most coveted constituencies for both candidates given this year’s heavy focus on Medicare and Social Security.  While the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald poll from last week had Romney’s lead as even larger, this past week’s polls showed Romney leading among seniors at about 52% to Obama’s 45%.

Not surprisingly, these results fall somewhat in line with the opinions among Florida seniors regarding Medicare.  54% of Florida seniors feel that President Obama’s healthcare plan will be harmful to Medicare, while 40% believe that Mitt Romney’s will be harmful.  Coincidently, a poll from the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation found that 55% of Florida seniors would prefer to simply keep Medicare “as-is” (supporting neither candidates plan), and 37% favor a premium support plan like the one Mitt Romney is proposing.  Understanding this data, it seems as though Mitt Romney will be the likely victor among seniors in Florida come November.

Congruent with the national average, President Obama is still leading among women in the Sunshine State, polling at an average of 51% compared to Mitt Romney’s 47%.  Meanwhile, however, Mitt Romney has a much larger lead among men (52%/44%).

Another interesting statistic worth noting in Florida is the percentage of registered democrats and registered republicans who plan to vote for each candidate.  According to the Gravis Marketing poll released on October 14th, 90% of republicans plan to vote for Mitt Romney, while 9% plan to vote for Barack Obama.  On the other hand, 86% of democrats plan to vote for Barack Obama, while 13% plan to vote for Mitt Romney.

Although this may seem like an alarming statistic for the president, it is actually not too out of the ordinary.  The northern, more rural part of the state is the home to a large contingency of “dixiecrats;” registered democrats who have voted republican for years on end.  Thus, it is likely that this statistic will make virtually no difference on the outcome.

With a mere 20 days left until America cast’s its vote for the presidency, there is still room for fluctuation in the Sunshine State.  Although Mitt Romney maintains a lead over the president in most all polls, a lot could happen in the coming days.

Given the tense debate performance on Tuesday night, it will be interesting to see how it plays out in Florida’s polls in the coming days.  Furthermore, with the third debate to be held in Boca Raton, it is likely that this will have at least some sort of affect on voters.  It’s been this year’s “swingiest” swing state, and I am still convinced anything can happen.

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