By early October, every potential voter has been shoved into a particular demographic sector and appealed to accordingly. America has been microtargeted and focus grouped to streamline budget allocations designed to find undecideds. There is still time to reach those who are eligible but not registered. Voter registration is open until at least October 6 everywhere in the country. Early voting starts in all but a handful of states before the end of the month. The presidential campaigns hope to extend any perceived advantage for their post-debate frenzy.
It is too early to create our election-night viewing guide. Hint: Polls close in Kentucky and Indiana before the rest of the country. The president is expected to lose both of these states, but we’ll still find something for you to consider, then extrapolate for later in the evening. In the meantime, here are some measures to consider before we get to November.
- October 9 is the deadline in Florida. In 2010, there were almost 600,000 more Democrats than Republicans in the state and there were over 2.5 million others. A large edge for Democrats in new entrants, especially if they are non-Cuban Hispanics, is an advantage for President Obama. October 9 is also the registration deadline in Ohio, but there is no party registration in that state. Instead, analysts will look for the geography of increased numbers.
- October 12 is the deadline in North Carolina. Through the summer, this is the only target state where Mitt Romney was either close or leading within the margin of error. Independents have been growing, within 500,000 of the Republican figures based on 2010 data. There are still more registered Democrats here, but many of them haven’t cast ballots for a party candidate in a long time. Voter enthusiasm is relevant, especially among African-Americans, young voters, the 150,000+ eligible Hispanics, but the mid-October registration figures is a signal about the Obama groundgame. Some locals say it isn’t nearly as visible as it was in 2008.
- Iowa and Virginia began in person early voting before the end of September. Iowa will dribble out reports on how many Republicans and Democrats have cast ballots, but the real data point is what happens with independents. There are more of them than there are R or D. A high independent early vote means the trailing candidate, in this case Romney, has fewer swing voters to persuade. Virginia has no party registration, but the key areas to monitor for early turnout are the northern Virginia suburbs (advantage Obama).
- In person early voting starts in Ohio on October 2, and the courts have intervened to define the period and the type of voters who are eligible. Going to the polls was the equivalent of rave or meetup in the last presidential cycle. Simplistic and stereotyping, yes, but we might know a lot from the demographics and the size of the lines in college campus communities.
- Last cycle, Nevada tracked early voting with such precision that we weren’t surprised when John McCain fell 12 points behind Obama. The Republican structures are in free-fall, with candidates from president on down setting up turnout/messaging campaigns distinct from the party. In person early voting begins on October 20, three weekends before the election. Gaming/hospitality unions have been the infrastructure for Democratic early turnout.
- The two weekends before the election is push time in Florida. We may not get data in time to evaluate, but there will be plenty of anecdotal, eye of the beholder, witnesses to tell us about the turnout machines deployed by both major contenders.
- Head to head matchups mean less if there isn’t an option to pick Gary Johnson, the Libertarian nominee. Scoff at the one percent or more he is getting here and there. If you believe this is a close presidential election, you believe at least 50+ electoral votes will be decided by his margins in the target states. If you don’t think this is a close race, ignore him … and Virgil Goode in Virginia and Jill Stein in Florida. Just remember, you can’t take 100 minus the percentage for Obama and give the remainder to Romney.
- I’m struggling how to explain this, but those of you following the numbers will grasp this concept. A mid-September Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll had the president running about two points ahead of his approval rating, Romney about seven points ahead of his. We are likely to elect a president whose winning margin is higher than his approval rating. For Romney to have a chance, he has to get voters who don’t have a positive image of him to vote for him, by my calculations he’ll have to run about ten points ahead of his favorable. The more he increases his favorable, he’ll depend on fewer people who aren’t comfortable with this choice. Ask a seasoned professional with current experience to create a metric for you on this phenomenon. In the old days, no one could get votes if they weren’t liked. I call this the Tina Turner election: what’s love got to do with it.