Barone has gone out on a limb and made his final prediction, “fully aware that I'm likely to get some wrong”. Here is how he calls it:
Fundamentals usually prevail in American elections. That's bad news for Barack Obama.
… most voters oppose Obama's major policies and consider unsatisfactory the very sluggish economic recovery -- Friday's jobs report showed an unemployment uptick.
Also, both national and target state polls show that independents, voters who don't identify themselves as Democrats or Republicans, break for Romney.
That might not matter if Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 39 to 32 percent, as they did in the 2008 exit poll. But just about every indicator suggests that Republicans are more enthusiastic about voting -- and about their candidate -- than they were in 2008, and Democrats are less so.
RCP’s Jay Cost has a discussion of this “enthusiasm factor”, and why it’s important. Essentially, early voting totals now are showing either equal voting patterns or a slight lead for Republican voters. According to Cost:
[In] 2008: the Democratic share of the vote that year was right within its historical track of the high-30s. What differed was a drop in Republican identification from the mid-30s to the low-30s.
Most polls tend to use that 39-32 Democrat/Republican breakdown from 2008, or something similar to it, as their baseline. That’s why many of the state poll results are showing close races, or races where Obama is leading slightly. But the early voting totals are showing a different story.
Here’s a recent breakdown of some of the early voting totals:
COLORADO: Republicans, 38 percent to Democrats' 35 percent.
It’s plain to see here that the 2008 average has been shifted in favor of Republicans.
FLORIDA: Democrats, 43 percent to 41 percent.
Even though Democrat votes are coming in ahead, they’re not coming in nearly so far ahead as they did in the 2008 election. Again, with independents polling 5%-10% ahead for Romney, this should give him a clear advantage.
NORTH CAROLINA: Democrats, 48 percent to 32 percent.
Again, “Democrats' early-vote lead in North Carolina certainly looks formidable. But in 2008, Democrats won the North Carolina early vote by an even wider margin, 51 percent to 30 percent, and only carried the state by 14,000 votes -- less than half a percentage point. They can't afford any drop in early voting.”
So the bottom line is that while some state polls, using 2008 figures as a baseline, are showing Obama to be ahead, the story on the ground tells a different story.
[W]hen I look at 2012, I see Mitt Romney with a lead among independents in almost every poll. But there is more than that. This is a president who lost the support of independent voters nearly three years ago when he and his allies in Congress passed a health care bill the independents did not want. I have watched and waited to see if independents would return to the president’s fold, but they have not. And the hour is very, very late….
[In sum], a nominal 3 to 4 point Democratic identification edge over the GOP will shrink to 1 or 2 points, meaning that independents will determine the outcome, just as they have basically for the last 32 years.
Returning to Barone:
That's been apparent in early or absentee voting, in which Democrats trail their 2008 numbers in target states Virginia, Ohio, Iowa and Nevada.
The Obama campaign strategy, from the beginning, has recognized these handicaps, running barrages of early anti-Romney ads in states that Obama carried narrowly. But other states, not so heavily barraged, have come into contention.
North Carolina: Romney
New Hampshire: Romney
Bottom line: Romney 315, Obama 223. That sounds high for Romney. But he could drop Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and still win the election. Fundamentals.
I’ve transposed his predictions to the Real Clear Politics “Create Your Own Map”, which is shown above.
These days, everyone is making a prediction. I like Barone’s line of reasoning across the board. It’ll be interesting several days from now to go back and see how everyone has been.