If the polls are to be believed, the 2012 election is shaping up to be one of the closest in the nation's history. If the polls are to be believed.
Prior to Hurricane Sandy, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was gaining rapidly on President Barack Obama, tightening the race in key states that no Republican has carried for president since George H.W. Bush did in 1988. This may be, as the Washington Examiner's Michael Barone has referred several times, to the fact that Romney is running well in the affluent suburban areas around Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Detroit, and other cities—places where the GOP has been in decline for the last two decades.
It may also be that specific issues are having a real affect on the possible outcome of the race, more than are usually the case—particularly the massacre in Benghazi, where the president's story has shifted as more facts become known. In one private poll of likely voters conducted in the key swing states of Florida, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Ohio by Pulse Opinion Research, close to half the likely electorate in each state believes Obama has been "less than honest" about what happened in Benghazi because he fears the political damage the truth might cause.
The same survey, conducted for Let Freedom Ring—where I am a senior fellow—showed a clear plurality of likely voters in each state believe Obama deserves a share of the blame for the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stephens and three other Americans, and that his failure to react to the attack in real time may have something to do with his unwillingness to call out acts of terror when he sees them, the post-Benghazi Rose Garden speech not withstanding.
There is also the lingering problem of joblessness, something that has been a hallmark of the Obama presidency. The campaign does not like to remember the president's promise that unemployment would not exceed 7 percent if Congress passed his stimulus bill—and the "fact checkers" have made a cottage industry out of defending him on this point—but the fact remains it is what the Obama White House said and that, for almost his entire presidency, the unemployment number has been above 8 percent. When the number of people who have quit looking for work all together—which is not counted in the unemployment number—is factored in, the number of people in America without work is almost double that.
As American Commitment's Phil Kerpen points out, unemployment increased from 7.8 percent in September to 7.9 in October, 160,000 more Americans were unemployed in October than in September, and 209,000 more Americans were unemployed in October than in January 2009, when Obama took office.
This may explain why the race in Pennsylvania, as one example, has tightened so much. Unemployment there is up to 8.2 percent, with 90,000 more workers unemployed in the state than when Obama took office.
Citing other analysis, Kerpen adds that if the American workforce experienced a string of months like October 2012, it would take 7 more years to get back to the Bush unemployment low of 4.4 percent.
Then why is the race so close? Well, the first observation is that it may not be. The statistical manipulation of the polling data may be throwing off the numbers. If the electorate turns out in the same percentages and in the same proportions as it did in 2008—when Barack Obama ran an exceptionally strong Democratic effort and John McCain led an exceptionally weak Republican one—then the polls may be right. But, based on how the electorate shifted in 2010, the national polls and the state polls may be screamingly wrong. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that Democrats will not be turning out on Tuesday in the same way they turned out four years ago and that the enthusiasm is all on the Republican's side. Obama has lost considerable support among blacks, Jews, Hispanics, and young adults. He is also not polling as well in 2012 among first-time voters as he did last time. Meanwhile, on just about every appreciable measure among every significant constituency, Romney is out-performing McCain by a considerable margin—even running even among women, which is something not even Ronald Reagan managed to accomplish in 1984, when he carried 49 of the 50 states on his way to be re-elected.
It is hard to believe, with Romney so strong in so many key demographics and Obama weaker than he was four years ago, that the race is really as tight as the national polls suggest. But the numbers are what the numbers are. Either way, someone is going to get the surprise of a lifetime on November 6—or whenever the race is actually decided.