Steady State Election

Despite all of the gaffes, jobs reports, and various twists and turns that so fascinate pundits, the race has remained essentially unchanged since April.

Curious to see whether this weekend’s announcement of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s running mate had changed the dynamics of the race, I looked to RealClearPolitics for the latest polls. At first, it looked like something was there: the two polls taken since the announcement both showed Romney leading the race whereas all the previous polls showed Obama leading. Then, I saw that one of the polls was Rasmussen, which skews Republican, and the other is Gallup, which is a five-day rolling average of registered voters without a likely voter screen.

Clicking through to the Gallup page, though, what was more interesting is how phenomenally steady the race has been since Romney clinched the nomination:

I even downloaded the spreadsheet to get a micro-granular look at the daily polls. Since the April 11-15 average, Obama has never been above 50 and Romney has never been above 48; neither man has been below 2.

Despite all of the gaffes, jobs reports, and various twists and turns that so fascinate the TV talking heads, bloggers, and Twitterati, the race has remained within four points virtually every day and is usually within the margin of error.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Ben Wolf says:

    Suggests to me the election lay in the hands of that uncommitted 8%.

  2. Anderson says:

    Voters keep looking at Obama and going, “meh.”

    Then they look at Romney.

    Then they look back at Obama and say “well ….”

    It’s like when you decide to buy a new car because your old one could be performing better … but then you look at the sticker on the new car.

  3. Just Me says:

    I remember reading an article somewhere that indicated this year there are far more people with their minds made up and the fewest number of undecided’s in polling history.

    I can actually believe this. While I won’t be voting for Obama, I fully expect him to be reelected barring some kind of huge scandal (which I don’t expect, but by scandal I mean something along the lines of Obama actually pulling the trigger in a murder not most of the manufactured or difficult to understand political scandals).

    I think the Obama luster has worn off, but I think Romney has proven to be a rather dull choice. The only way for Obama to be beaten is for people to feel passionate about Romney and they don’t. People will vote for the devil they know rather than the one they don’t.

  4. al-Ameda says:

    It looks like those GOP voter suppression efforts in Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania could definitely make a difference.

  5. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @Anderson: I think that’s a pretty good description. It isn’t so much that there’s been buyer’s remorse with Obama as much as a lot of people thinking “Surely the free market has developed a better product with more features at a reasonable price in the past four years…” and then realizing that it really is just a choice between Verizon and AT&T, and is it really worth paying the early cancellation fee to switch?

  6. anjin-san says:

    The electoral trending is not steady. It shows a steady upward trend for Omama, and the inverse for Romney, with a small upward tick as a result of the Ryan nomination.

  7. anjin-san says:

    Omama – I think that was from the Blues Brothers or something. I meant Obama.

  8. James Joyner says:

    @anjin-san: I’m not sure the uptick is real until it becomes a trend; one day could just be standard MOE fluctuation. But, no, I don’t see where there’s a steady upward movement for Obama. He was slightly down on the first day of this but came roaring back a couple days later, tapered off, and has largely been steady state since. But, again, never below 42 and never above 48 with a MOE of 3. That’s remarkably steady.

  9. James H says:

    Then there’s the vastly more popular “Yo Mama”

  10. anjin-san says:

    @ James

    But, no, I don’t see where there’s a steady upward movement for Obama.

    That’s remarkably steady.

    Nate Silver had Obama with a 59% chance of winning and 285 electoral votes on June 2. Today he has him at a 71.4% chance of winning, and 301.8 electoral votes today. How is that “remarkably steady”?

  11. C. Clavin says:

    It has been steady-state…with Obama rarely dropping below 300 Electoral Votes (270 needed to win).

  12. C. Clavin says:

    @ anjin-san…
    If you zoom out far enough even the Rockies look flat.

  13. anjin-san says:

    the race has remained essentially unchanged since April.

    The more I think about this, the more I am going to have to call BS. Romney made a hail mary in mid-August. He did it because he looked at the electoral landscape and knew he was probably headed for a loss. You do not make Hail Marys from a postion of strength. Even McCain turned over his “I’m feeling a bit desperate” card much later in the game. Portraying this as a neck and neck race is simply false (IMO).

  14. stonetools says:

    Romney felt himself falling behind, or else why the “Game Change?”

  15. Anderson says:

    Some of y’all are comparing apples to oranges.

    JJ is looking at the national poll average. It’s pretty flat.

    But of course, we don’t elect the president in a national referendum. So the Obama-loathing hordes in Texas, Utah, etc. are overkill.

    In the Electoral College, Obama’s ahead by a few points in enough swing states that he has a substantial lead.

    I just worry that can flip. Look at the razor-thin margins Truman eked out in some swing states in 1948. I think Dewey lost because some Republican guy in Ohio stayed home on Election Day.

  16. C. Clavin says:

    @ Anderson…
    It all depends on how successful the Republican voter supression efforts have been.

  17. Anderson says:

    Clavin, Nate Silver tells us not to freak out about that. I have more than enough things to freak out about, so I’m buying his take on that … for now.

    Also, the PA law stands a good chance of getting stricken before the election, and I’ve never really counted on winning FL anyway.

  18. anjin-san says:

    JJ is looking at the national poll average. It’s pretty flat.

    And it’s understandable that he would present the data set that puts Romney in the best light, even if it is far less relevant to the election than electoral trends. But he knows better, and so do we. Messages like this are intended for people that don’t know better.

  19. PogueMahone says:

    @Anderson: I’ve never really counted on winning FL anyway.

    I was right where you are a few days ago. I fully expected Romney to carry FL, but since the VP pick – and the medicare plan that invariably goes with him – I see FL in play now.

    No matter how hard the Romney camp tries to distance themselves from Ryan’s Hope*, they won’t be able to do it. Thus, Romney is chained to Ryan’s medicare reconstruction, and that’s going to concern enough seniors in FL to put it back in play.


    *Sorry – can’t help it.

  20. anjin-san says:

    Has the Romney/Ryan “Farewell to Medicare” tour rolled through FL yet? I heard Romeny cancelled a date there.

  21. michael reynolds says:


    It’s a race between how many votes Ryan can scare off versus how many the Florida GOP can steal by disenfranchising voters. It seems the Republican Party has decided it can’t win national elections but can steal them. And Republicans, being Republicans, are content with that.

    After all: better to violate American’s faith in democracy than risk rich people paying another 3% in taxes.

  22. rudderpedals says:

    @anjin-san: Bailed on the first FL stop of the Liquidate America tour. A protest was announced ahead of time. Protestors duly pwn3d

    Instead of the bus terminal our intrepid Mitt hotfooted off to Hialeah to pass out tasty drinks and troll for cash. And it all seemed to go well but the guy has a knack for letting the details slide.. Link goes to Miami New Times

  23. PogueMahone says:

    @michael reynolds:
    Well, if they’re going to play dirty pool – then all bets are off.

  24. KariQ says:

    You’re absolutely right that the race hasn’t changed, if you only look at Gallup. If you take out the trackers, things appear to be moving in Obama’s direction. It’s a remarkable thing that the regular polls show one thing and the trackers something different.

  25. Anderson says:

    I have been reading JJ too long to suspect him of sillily partisan tricks. Gallup is showing something real with its tracking poll.

    Some years the GOP has profited from small red states with disproportionate pull in the EC. This time, through what must be assiduous work, the Dems ate making the EC work for them. Romney thought “not Obama” would lock up OH and VA for him. Not yet it hasnt.

  26. jan says:

    The Lakewood Colorado Gym was packed with over 3000 people who came to see Paul Ryan today. Most were locals, but some drove 6 hours to see this man, and he was enthusiastically received.

    In his talk, Ryan was all substance, avoiding cheap campaign shots yet repeatedly bringing the audience to their feet by making clear, powerful points about energy independence, the need to deregulate, fiscal soundness, the difference between a culture of self-reliance and one of dependence, and the doctrines of Natural Law and the Declaration of Independence. That’s right, he spoke about Natural Law and the origin of rights to a campaign crowd, and they got it. In fact, along with his discussion of energy independence, it was one of the two high points of the event. I can’t remember when I’ve seen a candidate address a mass audience at such a high level and pull it off. But he did.

    Previously, the support of many Colorado Republicans for Romney had been primarily based on the fact that he wasn’t Obama. With his speech today, Ryan did a lot to change that.

    This VP selection augments Romeny’s call for more free enterprise to be interjected into the economy over the next 4 years. There is such a wonderful contest of ideas on board represented by two different philosophies — the social progressives versus conservatives. While some people are seeing similarities between Ryan and Reagan, I see more of a youthful JFK — lots of charisma, energy and inspirational words pointing to a better direction than the one Obama has taken this country. Ryan is the GOP rock star, while the dems seem more and more the stodgy party of useless ideas.

  27. anjin-san says:

    In his talk, Ryan was all substance

    Did he explain why he played a big roll in creating the deficit, voting for an endless string of budget busting bills?

  28. anjin-san says:

    the stodgy party of useless ideas

    Such as “people with pre-existing conditions should be able to have health insurance?”

  29. al-Ameda says:


    I see more of a youthful JFK — lots of charisma, energy and inspirational words pointing to a better direction than the one Obama has taken this country. Ryan is the GOP rock star, while the dems seem more and more the stodgy party of useless ideas.

    Comparing Ryan to JFK? JFK asked what we could do for our country. Ryan, an Ayn Rand disciple, got his and now he wants to take way from future generations. I can see why you find that to be so inspirational.

  30. anjin-san says:

    I see more of a youthful JFK

    Love them or hate them, there is one thing that is a certain fact about the Kennedy brothers. They were genuinely concerned for the welfare of the less fortunate members of society.

    If JFK was alive today, he would despise today’s GOP in general, and the Romney/Ryan ticket in particular.

  31. michael reynolds says:

    Ryan worships a Russian atheist who despised democracy. And Bible-thumping Republicans love him.

    You gotta love the stoopid.

  32. michael reynolds says:

    This is excellent. Paul Ryan sponsored a bill that would have made Mitt Romney’s kid a criminal.

    Oh, we’re going to have fun with Pretty Paul.

  33. Dave A says:

    I agree that he is a GOP rockstar, but the fact that you consider that a positive does not bode well for the rest of your analysis.

  34. superdestroyer says:

    I guess it is hard to be wonk or a wannabe while refusing to acknowledge that there are few swing voters in the U.S. and that the population that would automatically vote for a Democrat at around 50%.

    The only thing that has keep the Republicans relevant in the last decade is that older whites are much better at getting to the polls that poor blacks or Hispanics. However, with the demographic trends being that they are, it just does not matter anymore. Sheer numbers are going to overwhelm any trend.

    People should realize by now that the next meaningful election for president will be the Iowa Democratic Party caucus and Democratic Party New Hampshire primary in 2016 when the next president will be chosen.

  35. sam says:


    Why don’t you save the fvcking bandwidth and just post, “Fellow Whiteys, We Are Doomed”?

  36. JKB says:

    @superdestroyer: is that older whites are much better at getting to the polls that poor blacks or Hispanics.

    What about the well to do and middle class blacks and Hispanics? Do they get to the polls all right? Or are they acting “white” when they do that? Or the poor whites?

  37. JKB says:

    Seems to me, polls have been increasingly unreliable of late. Not really a mystery. If you affect a Liberal persona and speak kindly of Romney you’ll be excommunicated if not attacked. Plus some one calling out of the blue or asking questions in the street may be a benign pollster or could be come Democrat-leaning group developing an enemies list. In any case, it is best to keep your own counsel these days and save your opinion giving for the ballot box.

    We shall see in a bit.

  38. James Joyner says:

    @anjin-san: @C. Clavin: @anjin-san: I’m not sure what you guys are arguing about here. This post is about the steadiness of the Gallup daily tracking poll. I link to the poll, present a picture of the trendlines, and put numbers on the fluctuation. It’s hard to argue anything other than that the Gallup average has been steady over time.

    Is Gallup the end all and be all? Not hardly. It’s a “registered voter” sample, not a likely voter sample. And it’s nationwide while the election is state-by-state. But this isn’t an analysis of the likely election outcome but a comment on how little the various day-to-day things have mattered over the past several months.

    As to the Electoral College, Doug, Steven, and I have written umpteen posts about it being Obama’s election to lose and Romney’s needing pretty much everything to align perfectly to win 270 votes. But, again, that’s been a steady state for months. The campaign seems to not be mattering much.

  39. KariQ says:


    So you’re suggesting that there are a lot of people out there who support Romney but are afraid to admit it to a pollster for fear of being put on an “enemies list”? Wow.

  40. Jeremy says:

    @anjin-san: It’s not. It’s Nate Silver. Which is not Gallup or the other pollsters, just one guy doing some guesstimation.

    Really, really effing good guesstimation, but guesstimation all the same.

  41. anjin-san says:

    @ James

    This post is about the steadiness of the Gallup daily tracking poll

    So just the headline is misleading?

    Steady State Election

    @ JKB

    Conservatives are victims, that is the one certainty in this life.

    @ Jeremy

    I give a lot of weight to Silver and Charlie Cook, it worked well last time. This time? We will see. But those are the two I pay the most attention to.

  42. Anderson says:

    … And the PA voter-ID law will stand. Hm. OTOH, last poll I saw was 51-43 Obama. If the Dems will work on their ground game, should be okay.

  43. anjin-san says:

    @ KariQ

    for fear of being put on an “enemies list”

    Pretty standard stuff. The other day Jenos was ranting about not being able to talk about his offline life because of leftist serial killers and swat teams.

  44. Anderson says:

    Whatever reason Jenos has for “not being able to talk about his offline life,” it works for me.