The basic question that determines every election is not what many people tend to believe. Every primary season we hear the same question or argument of: Who can best win over Independents and thus win the election? Yet, regardless of how often this nonsense is spewed, more and more people are buying into the line. This election could be a prime example: Mitt Romney according to almost every national poll and even many swing state polls is in fact winning among this "key" voter block. Yet, if the election were held today he does not have very good chance of winning the election. Why? There is another question that is far important to winning elections...Who can best energize their own base and get them out to vote? The primary reason behind this is that the vast majority of voters will always be from one party or the other and roughly 90% of these voters will vote strictly according to their party affiliation every election. Then for the most part neither party has much of a track record of winning a decisive percentage of these voters anyway. Let us consider the voting trends among only independents for the past three elections.
2000- Bush 47%- Gore 45%
2004- Kerry 49%- Bush 48%
2008- Obama 53%-McCain 45%
So the largest margin was clearly 2008 in which McCain was defeated by eight percentage points in a year that only 29% of the electorate was classified as independents. Yet, in 2008 a record low 32% of the electorate classified themselves as republicans compared to 37% of the electorate in 2004. Now what was more important? Losing 5% of the total electorate which would have voted for you at roughly a 90-10 clip or losing by 8% among 29% of the electorate. It does not take rocket science or a mathematical genius to figure out that republicans staying home in 2008 was more of a cause for McCain's defeat and in 2004 republican voter turnout was basically the only reason for Bush winning re-election.
Another aspect that must be considered is that roughly 75% of independents vote nearly along one parties line. This means that in 2008 only around 8% were really independents. (For the longest time I was classified on my voter registration card as an independent, but I have only voted for one democrat in my life.)
Now let's take a look at voter turnout among party lines for the past 12 years.
2000- Democrats 39%, Republicans 35%, Independents 27%
2002- Democrats 38%, Republicans 40%, Independents 22%
2004- Democrats 37%, Republicans 37%, Independents 26%
2006- Democrats 38%, Republicans 36%, Independents 26%
2008- Democrats 39%, Republicans 32%, Independents 29%
2010- Democrats 35%, Republicans 35%, Independents 29%
Here is the ultimate question for 2012...will voter turnout look very similar to 2008 as the majority of pollsters are predicting? Or will we see turnout like it was in 2004 and 2010 that was evenly split? If the answer to question one is yes then Obama should be considered a heavy favorite, but if the answer to question two is yes then Romney should be considered a heavy favorite and pollsters and prognosticators will look silly on election night. In my heart I tend to think we are looking at a median between the 2004 and 2008 numbers. My prediction looks like this...
2012- Democrats 38%, Republicans 35%, Independents 27%
If my non-formulated prediction on voter turnout is correct will this impact the election? The only way to answer that question is to know how close the margin will be in the polling on election day. This is the reason I keep saying that Romney must be no more then 2% behind in a state like Ohio for me to view him as having a realistic chance of winning on election day. This is because I have reformulated the numbers from the polls that heavily weighs 2008 as the likely voter trend and it either becomes a statistical tie or a very narrow win for Obama still.
There is yet another aspect that must be considered when we look at voting turnout and that is the percentage of current registered voters that fall into each party currently. In 2008, 40.3% of registered voters considered themselves democrats. This was a clear indication from the very start of the 2008 campaign that Americans were not wanting to identify with the GOP whatsoever, therefore any republican would have had an uphill climb to defeat either Clinton or Obama. Of course when we look at these numbers of how registered voters divvy up, we must be reminded that historically democrats turn out on election day at a higher clip then republicans. So just because there may be more republicans at a given point is not any indication that they would likely win an election that is held during that time. Here is the registered voter breakdown for the past few elections in October...
YEAR- R D I
2012- 36.8/34.2/29.0 (As of September)
However, the gap favoring republicans in the past few months has been quickly closing and by the time election day rolls around we could be looking at a nearly even split. So why then are the majority of polls not considering these registered voter numbers much...
1.) They rarely do. Many use an enthusiasm gap method in which if the vast amount of callers identify with one party then that party will be much more heavily weighted. Polls that use this method have had rather mixed voter turnout projections, but they generally either look a lot like the 2008 numbers or show up to 35% of the electorate as independents which ends up bringing down the republican total to between 30-32% of the electorate. These are staggering projections that I tend to think are not based upon realistic reality.
2.) Many pollsters were rather embarrassed in 2008 by having their party weighing system way off. Almost every poll underestimated Obama's numbers and some feel like they could be trying to make up for this mistake in 2012, despite contradicting numbers.
3.) Obama is considered to have a much better ground game in most of the crucial swing states. This means that they can more easily offset these numbers with increased democrat turnout. If a voter knows that the candidate he wants to win is going to take care of driving him to and from the polls and give him a little gift as well, then they will most likely consider themself a likely voter when they are polled and probably be more apt to participate in polls.
4.) These numbers are all general election or popular vote based and popular vote polls seem more inclined to consider these numbers. Ohio generally has very similar numbers to the general electorate as a whole, yet most of the recent polls are not paying much attention to these registered voter numbers, but there is overwhelming evidence that several of the popular vote polls are considering these numbers by the close breakdown by party affiliation. If somehow the popular vote polls were more accurate on election day then the state polls, which is very rare, then this would likely be the key reason. Take for instance that as of June 2012 Rasmussen General Election polls were predicting a 36% republican, 34% democrat, 32% independents outcome. No wonder why Rasmussen is always showing such favorable numbers to Romney. However, in fairness their numbers have likely shifted as the registered voter breakdown has also shifted in the past few months and they were very accurate in their October 2008 predictions when they predicted a 40-33-26 breakdown, (D-R-I) which was close to the actual result of 39-32-29.