Dinsdag 20/04/2021

Did Hurricane Sandy Blow Romney Off Course?

THE NEW YORK TIMES

If President Obama wins tonight, the historical memory of the race might turn on the role played by Hurricane Sandy.

Already, some analysts are describing the storm as an "October surprise" that allowed Mr. Obama to regain his footing after stumbling badly in the first presidential debate and struggling to get back on course. Some Republicans seem prepared to blame a potential defeat for Mitt Romney on the storm.

The theory has some appeal. The last days of polling have brought what is almost certainly Mr. Obama's strongest run of polling since the first presidential debate in Denver. Mr. Obama led in the vast majority of battleground-state polls over the weekend. Increasingly, it is hard to find leads for Mr. Romney in national surveys.

When the hurricane made landfall in New Jersey on Oct. 29, Mr. Obama's chances of winning re-election were 73 percent in the FiveThirtyEight forecast. Since then, his chances have risen to 86 percent. But, while the storm and the response to it may account for some of Mr. Obama's gains, it assuredly does not reflect the whole of the story.

Mr. Obama had already been rebounding slowly in the polls from his lows in early October - in contrast to a common narrative in the news media that contended that Mr. Romney still had the momentum in the race.

Moreover, there are any number of alternatives to explain Mr. Obama's gains before and after the storm.

Mr. Obama was adjudicated the winner of the second and third presidential debates by voters who watched.

The past month has brought encouraging economic news.

Both Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney have been running lots of advertisements, which could have some effect, especially in the swing states.

Mr. Obama's voter-targeting operation may have begun to show in the polls.

Mr. Obama's approval rating is at 49 or 50 percent in many surveys, which would ordinarily predict a narrow re-election.

Some elections "break" toward one or another candidate at the end as undecided voters tune in.

Each of these hypotheses could merit its own article. The point is that the causes for Mr. Obama's gain in the polls are overdetermined, meaning that there are lot of variables that might have contributed to the result.

If I had told you in January that Mr. Obama's approval rating would have risen close to 50 percent by November, and that the unemployment rate would have dropped below 8 percent, you likely would have inferred that Mr. Obama was a favorite for re-election, with or without a hurricane and what was judged to be a strong response to it.

This is not to dismiss the effects of the hurricane entirely. But the fact that Mr. Obama's rebound in the polls has been slow and steady would lend weight to some of the other ideas, even if they make for less dramatic narratives.

Although the outcome of the election is not yet known, we are at the point where the polling averages in each state are pretty much locked in - and it is mostly a question of whether the actual results will approximate them, in which case Mr. Obama should claim enough electoral votes between Ohio and other states to win.

Given the extremely large volume of polling data published, you should mostly be looking for cases in which there are trends apparent across different surveys of the same state. For example, Mr. Obama led in four separate polls of Virginia on Sunday. Virginia has moved out of the tossup category into a state that leans toward Mr. Obama; he has a 70 to 75 percent chance of winning it.

That represents a problem for Mr. Romney because Virginia's 13 electoral votes could potentially substitute Ohio's 18 under many electoral configurations. If Mr. Obama were to win Virginia, Wisconsin, Nevada and either Iowa or New Hampshire, he would have enough votes even if he lost Ohio.

Mr. Obama's polls in Iowa were not as strong on Sunday as they had been earlier in the week. It looks as though Mr. Obama's first line of defense consists of Ohio, Wisconsin and Nevada, which would allow him to win the Electoral College on their own.

North Carolina, where Mr. Romney led surveys on Sunday, does not appear as though it will play a central role in the electoral math.

What about that poll in Michigan, which had Mr. Romney leading by about a point? The problem is that the polling firm, Foster McCollum White Baydoun, has had Republican-leaning results and shows a close race every time. Other recent polls of the state do not show the same result, and the campaigns are not treating Michigan seriously as a battleground state.

Pennsylvania has more merit as a last tactical play for Mr. Romney - but it is another case where the characterization of the race as tightened relies in part on a selective reading of the evidence. Between Saturday and Sunday, five polls of Pennsylvania had Mr. Obama an average of four points ahead, and they did not show much of a trend, with Mr. Obama having led by the same amount in their previous editions.

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