During a break in the UNI vs. Wisconsin football game three weeks ago, my dad leaned over and asked, “Do you really think the election is that close?” I quickly responded, “I don’t know.” But how is that possible? I like to think I’m a keen observer of politics, so how is it that I don’t know what is going to happen come November? As we talked a little more (in between touchdown passes from Kollmorgen to Johnson) he wondered if the election was really all that close in Iowa, that perhaps Obama has an edge. Again, however, I responded “I don’t know about Iowa.”
The uncertainty most likely comes from two sources: a lack of consistent polling in the state, and nonstop visits by the president and vice-president interspersed with visits from Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.
First, on polling. A NBC News/WSJ/Marist poll released on Thursday shows President Obama with an eight percentage point lead over Governor Romney in Iowa, 50% to 42%. However, a Rasmussen poll released a day earlier showed Romney with a three percentage point lead over Obama, 47% to 44% among likely Iowa voters (an increase of 1 percentage point over a previous poll). Does this mean Iowa is leaning toward Obama or Romney? Difficult to say, but according to Real Clear Politics (RCP), only one other polling organization has conducted polling in Iowa since July. The results, by Public Policy Polling (PPP), show Obama with a 2 percentage point lead over Obama in August, down from 5 in July and 10 in May. So Iowa is close, right?
This lack of polling is further complicated by concerns about pollster bias. New York Times political columnist Nate Silver shows that PPP tends to lean Democratic, as does NBC/Marist (though not as much as PPP), while Rasmussen leans ever so slightly to the right. So the question remains: Is Iowa close?
Campaign visits would suggest Iowa is extraordinarily close. As reported by the Des Moines Register, President Obama has visited the state eight times since January, an unprecedented number for Iowa, while Vice-President Biden has made five trips to the state. Governor Romney, no stranger to the state, has visited six times, not to mention three visits by running mate Paul Ryan. But without reliable poll numbers, it is difficult to say whether such visits matter. I would suggest the sheer number of presidential visits indicates two possibilities:
One, the state is leaning toward Obama but the president’s struggles in other states such as Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, and a tight race in Virginia, states which he carried in 2008, means Iowa is a must.
The other possibility is that personal visits by the president simply aren’t working, or at the very least providing the kind of reliable traction to move undecided and leaning voters firmly into the president’s column. The large crowds would suggest otherwise, but there is a disconnect between recent polls and presidential visits.
More polling would be helpful as I’m sure we will be seeing more visits.
One other note: campaigns seemed to have taken on the role of football coaches of late. We’ve all seen coaches try to ice the opponent’s kicker by waiting until the last half second before the snap to call a timeout (e.g. see the end of the first half of the Nebraska vs. UCLA game two weeks ago). According to the Des Moines Register, literally minutes before President Obama spoke in Urbandale three weeks ago the Romney campaign announced VP nominee Paul Ryan would be in Iowa the following Tuesday and Wednesday. And Representative Paul Ryan and Vice President Biden were back at it again last week with dueling announcements about upcoming same day visits. Is it really possible to ice a presidential (or vice-presidential) candidate into giving a poor speech?
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This post was written by Chris Larimer on September 20, 2012