Did Hurricane Sandy Blunt Romney’s Momentum?
Republicans already seem to be blaming Hurricane Sandy in the event Mitt Romney loses.
As we make our way through the final day of the campaign, the most notable thing in the polling is the extent to which the President seems to have rebounded, or Mitt Romney faded, in the last week or so. This has been most noticeable in the national polling, where Romney’s previous narrow lead has been replaced by a narrow Obama lead thanks largely to increases in the President’s level of support, as this chart of the RealClearPolitics National Average for October 1st through today shows:
We have also seen an increase in the President’s job approval rating over the past month and, of course, the President’s continued strength in swing state polls in states like Ohio, Virginia, New Hampshire and Colorado. All of this has led some Republicans to start to hint that if Obama wins, it will be at least in part because of Hurricane Sandy:
The election is still a day away, but the political pundits who might be on the losing side of the vote are already preparing their excuses for what went wrong. The early line coming from some Republicans is that Hurricane Sandy really put the brakes on Mitt Romney’s campaign, just at the moment he was staging a powerful comeback. Former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour gave that idea its own forward push on the Sunday morning talk shows, explicitly saying that ”The hurricane is what broke Romney’s momentum.”
He’s not the only one who thinks that either. None other than super-strategist Karl Rove admitted that the storm was a distraction from Romney’s economic message and it also gave President Obama a chance to play the roll of “comforter-in-chief.” Despite the “stutter” in the campaign, as Rove called it, he told The Washington Post that he still thinks Romney wins Ohio and the election, but there’s no doubt in his mind that the hurricane and its aftermath made his job a lot harder.
Then there’s the private “insiders” behind the Romney curtain who are also complaining about the storm’s impact on their fortunes. They claim their internal polls showed Romney picking up support for eight straight days before Sandy arrived, but the break in the campaign robbed him of the Big Mo.
Another prominent Republican businessman, Rupert Murdoch, directly criticized Chris Christie for his so-called “embrace” of President Obama in the wake of the storm, saying, absurdly, that he most “re- declare for Romney, or take blame for next four dire years.”
There’s no question that Sandy did have an impact of some kind on the Romney campaign’s strategy. When the storm hit last Monday, Romney had been scheduled to kick off the last week of his campaign with what has become his “closing speech” and a tour that would have taken him from Ohio to Virginia to Florida, and beyond just in the week between October 29th and November 2nd. That entire plan got derailed for at least three days as both campaigns suspended campaigning in the wake of what became a catastrophic storm all along the East Coast, but most especially on the Jersey Shore, Long Island, and New York City. Romney was reduced to turning a planned rally in Ohio into a makeshift donations-for-the-storm-victims event that more than a few reporters described as going off just a bit awkwardly, which isn’t surprising given that it was planned at the last minute. The President, on the other hand, was seen well, being Presidential whether it was at FEMA Headquarters in Washington or during his tour of the Jersey Shore with Governor Christie. It wasn’t till later in the week that the campaign got back into full swing, and it’s seemed pretty clear since then that something had changed.
However, it’s easy to take this one massive event and say that it was the turning point in the race, but as Nate Silver points out, there are a number of other reasons that the polls have seemingly moved back in the President’s favor:
[T]here are any number of alternatives to explain Mr. Obama’s gains before and after the storm hit.
- Mr. Obama was adjudicated the winner of the second and third presidential debates in surveys of voters who watched them.
- The past month has brought a series of encouraging economic news, including strong jobs reports in October and last Friday.
- The bounce in the polls that Mr. Romney received after the Denver debate may have been destined to fade in part, as polling bounces often do following political events like national conventions.
- Democrats have an edge in early voting based on states that provide hard data about which party’s voters have turned out to cast ballots. Some voters who were originally rejected by the likely voter models that surveys apply may now be included if they say that they have already voted.
- 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 in fact be stronger than Mr. Romney’s and may have begun to show up in the polls.
- Mr. Obama’s approval rating is at 49 or 50 percent in many surveys, a threshold that would ordinarily predict a narrow re-election for an incumbent.
- Some elections “break” toward one or another candidate at the end as undecided voters tune in and begin to evaluate their decision.
It’s impossible to say what would’ve happened if Sandy had veered off to sea and never threatened the American mainland, an alternate universe that the residents of the New York Tri-State area would no doubt have preferred. As Silver notes, and as the chart above shows, there were signs well before October 29th that Romney’s momentum from the October 3rd debate was starting to fade and that the President had largely recovered from that debate. I do think that the images that voters saw of him in the wake of Hurricane Sandy made it more difficult for Republicans to continue their attack on the President’s leadership, and the fact that the storm pretty much ate up the entire news cycle last week is something that benefited him as well. However, the idea that the storm itself would be seen as the turning point in the campaign doesn’t really comport with the facts. So sorry GOP, you won’t be able to blame a loss on Sandy.