The Election Isn’t Over

Only fools and partisans think Obama has it locked up.

Commentary by Pete du Pont

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Things are changing in America, from economics to politics, to elections. The public sees a supposed economic recovery that seems quite short on job creation, as employment and underemployment remain high. They see higher taxes coming: ObamaCare's new 3.8% tax on investment income, plus the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, which will mean higher taxes on all income, including dividends and capital gains. On top of all that, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office now says nearly six million Americans will face a tax penalty of about $1,200 under ObamaCare for not getting insurance, and that will take an additional $6.9 billion from the public to the government in 2016. The national debt exceeds $16 trillion and is expected to keep rising.

All this creates a sense of uneasiness and instability in the coming presidential election. The Republican rank and file preferred a strong conservative as their presidential candidate, but the Washington establishment always seemed to want a moderate—someone more like George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole or John McCain—as a "safe choice." A 2012 candidate in the latter category probably would lead to electoral disaster. Fortunately, with Mitt Romney the Republicans have a candidate in the middle. The Democrats, of course, went with their incumbent even though he continues to score poorly on job approval and his signature first-term accomplishments are unpopular with the electorate.

In spite of what some of the pundits are saying, this election is not over, and it is very difficult now to be sure who will win the race on Nov. 6. To begin with, the polls seem to show a good bit of volatility. According to Rasmussen Reports, which unlike many other analysts has tracked likely voters instead of registered ones, has gone from Mr. Obama up by two in August, to up by five in early September to a tie in late September. Gallup was plus-one for Mr. Romney in mid-August, plus-seven for Mr. Obama in early September, and plus-three for Mr. Obama in mid-September. In short, each candidate is holding 45% to 47% of the votes with roughly 6% to 10% undecided.

Of course elections are won in the Electoral College, where becoming president requires reaching at least 270 votes. According to the latest RealClearPolitics.com summary, at the moment Mr. Obama seems to have a base of 179 and Mr. Romney of 150. That leaves Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia for the major battles, although Ohio and Pennsylvania currently lean toward Obama.

We know that events can change elections dramatically, and we do not yet know what the reaction of voters will be to the killing of the American ambassador and three other government employees in Libya and the attacking of our embassies. Or to the continuing increase in gas prices. We will know more in early November, but perhaps not until then.

Finally, some thoughts on the outcome of the election based on models from professors at American University (Allan Lichtman) and the University of Colorado (Kenneth Bickers and Michael Berry). According to Kevin Schoelzel, writing in the Vanderbilt Political Review, both models have correctly predicted presidential election outcomes since 1984. They can't both do so this time: Mr. Lichtman has picked Obama to win, and Messrs. Bickers and Berry have picked Romney.

Mr. Lichtman has identified 13 key factors—true-or-false tests—that will make the outcome clear. According to Mr. Schoelzel, if the president "escapes with less than five falsees, he is able to hold onto the office," but not if he has six or more. So Mr. Lichtman has concluded that Obama will win the election. Messrs. Bickers and Berry look at the economic data in all 50 states and used that to predict the Electoral College outcome. Their model pointed to the Romney win in August, and they are expected to issue an updated projection soon.

And of course the debates will no doubt play a large role because the election is close. They will be used by many voters to evaluate Mr. Romney and decide whether they see him as presidential, a hurdle faced by every challenger.

The polls are volatile and close, and neither candidate has a lock on the Electoral College math. There is still time for the outside events to impact the race, the models with the best track record are split on who the winner will be, and the all-important debates are yet to come. To say that this race can go either way is an understatement, and those who say that the race is over are either partisan or foolish, or both.

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