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What are the odds on Mitt? What the polls suggest about Romney’s chances in November

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan at a campaign stop. EPA/Jim Lo Scalo

As the Republican Party begins gathering in Tampa to officially anoint Mitt Romney as its nominee for president, many are still questioning whether he stands a chance of defeating incumbent President Barack Obama on the first Tuesday in November.

The English bookmaker Ladbrokes suggests his chances of winning are remote, offering odds of 15/8 on a Romney win whilst Obama is 2/5 on to succeed in his bid for re-election.

The recent controversy over Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin’s remarks about women’s ability to stave off pregnancy in cases of “legitimate rape” have added to the perception that the Romney camp faces an uphill battle in winning crucial demographic groups - particularly women. Whilst there are demographic obstacles to the Romney campaign that I shall get to shortly, recent polls suggest that his chances of winning are not as remote as many have suggested.

Let us have a look at the polls to see where Mr Romney’s chances currently sit. Gallup’s most recent national weekly tracking poll has the two candidates locked on 46% of the vote. This closeness in the national polls has been reflected for the last four months with the biggest lead either candidate has enjoyed being four points. More commonly the two have been neck-and-neck or within a two point margin.

Given the electoral college system with candidates winning delegates based on winning individual states it is the state polls which are the most significant. Of the fifty states the New York Times places eight in the category of too close to call. These states are Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, Virginia, Florida and New Hampshire. So where does Mitt Romney sit in the most recent polls for these states?

In the two largest “swing” states, Florida and Ohio - returning 29 and 18 delegates respectively – the polls suggest a tight contest. The average of the last three polls in Florida suggest that the two candidates are neck-and-neck. In Ohio, Obama has a 1.75-point lead on the average of the last four polls. This figure is magnified by the six-point lead given to him by a CBS/New York Times/Quinnipiac poll. Other polls such as Rasmussen have the two candidates in a tie.

In Nevada and Colorado, Obama enjoys handy but hardly insurmountable leads with the average of the last two polls putting him up 3 ½-points in each state. In the last four Wisconsin polls, Obama has an average lead of just under a point and a three-point lead in New Hampshire in a University of New Hampshire poll. In Virginia, two recent polls give Romney an average 1.5-point lead whilst in Iowa the most recent poll also gives Romney a two-point lead.

All of these polls suggest that while Obama appears to be slightly in front in the key states, these leads are hardly impossible to overcome for Romney, and in many cases are within the margin of error for the conducting of these polls. Maybe our friends at Ladbrokes are being a little bit generous in the odds they are giving for a Republican victory.

Two other points need to be raised at this stage. Firstly the Republican National Convention’s reported aim is to get audiences to strike a new connection with Mitt Romney by showcasing his personal story. By placing him on a $2.5 million purpose-built stage aimed at conveying warmth and openness and allowing him to tell the story about his personal achievements and commitment to his Mormon faith, the Republicans hope to challenge the image of the candidate as stiff and aloof. Assuming Hurricane Isaac does not destroy the Republicans’ party and they are at least partly successful in selling a new vision of Romney, the candidate can expect a bump in the polls. Respected political scientist Thomas Holbrook, an expert on convention bumps, has suggested in the Huffington Post that with moderate success at the convention Romney can expect a 3.6% bump in the polls. He also predicts at this stage the likelihood of a narrow Romney win.

Republican nominee Mitt Romney meets voters in Powell, Ohio, earlier this month. EPA/Jay Laprete

Finally there is a caveat on this suggestion of the possibilities for the success of the Republican candidate. Demographic changes in the key swing states since the last election are clearly in favour of Obama. It may in fact be that these changes are driving his current narrow lead in the polls. In the 2008 election Obama won 80% of the minority vote over Republican candidate John McCain. He lost by a narrow margin - 52-48% - the vote among white college educated voters and lost decisively - by 59-41% - the vote among white non-college educated voters. This loss in the working class vote was particularly pronounced among men. According to a detailed analysis by Ruy Teixeira and William Frey in the New Republic, the share of the registered voting population made up by minorities has increased since the last Presidential election nationally by approximately 3%. The share of the white working class has decreased by approximately the same percentage.

In key swing states this demographic change is particularly pronounced. In Nevada for example the minority vote has increased by 9% and this has been matched by a 5% decline in white non-college educated voters. In Florida also, Teixeira and Frey suggest that the minority vote has increased by 4% and the non-college educated has decreased by 3% and there has been a 1% decline in the college-educated voters.

These changes would certainly seem to benefit Barack Obama assuming that he can maintain a sizeable level of the previous turnout and support from minority voters. Having said this, given the closeness of the polls and that these demographic changes are already factored in, it might not be such a bad idea to have a look at the 15/8 odds at Ladbrokes.

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