Politics Explained: Can Romney Still Win?

The last four weeks following the Democratic National Convention have shown a marked shift in the polls in favor of President Obama. The RCP national polling average was tied between Obama and Governor Romney on September 6th, but by September 29th, Obama held a 4.1 point lead.

The shift has occurred at an even greater level in the four states which are most likely to cast the deciding electoral votes (Nate Silver calls these states “tipping point states”): Ohio, Virginia, Florida, and Wisconsin. In Ohio, Obama went from a 0.7 point lead to a 5.4 point lead. In Virginia, Obama went from a 0.6 point lead to a 3.7 point lead. In Florida, Obama went from a 0.6 point lead to a 3.2 point lead. And in Wisconsin, Obama went from a 1.4 point lead to a whopping 7.8 point lead. All of this begs the question: Can Mitt Romney still win?

The best way to answer this question is to think about what would have to change in order for Romney to get back on par with Obama. For one, he would have to “win” decisively the debates against Obama, a highly unlikely feat given Obama’s strong rhetorical skills (that even Paul Ryan admitted were impressive).

Additionally, Romney would need poor US economic numbers from now until the election. In particular, the jobs reports for September and October would have to look especially grim for Obama, something on the order of only 50,000 jobs created, or less. A rise in unemployment, perhaps up to 9 percent, would also be necessary. And finally, some sort of foreign policy crisis would have to take place to undermine Obama’s strong credibility in that field. The latest Fox News poll, jointly conducted by Democratic and Republican polling agencies, showed that voters trust Obama more than Romney on issues of foreign policy by a 52-41 margin. The Romney campaign has been trying to make the September 11th attack on the American embassy in Benghazi appear to be that crisis for the Obama Administration (and poorly, at that). A severe escalation of the nuclear tension between Iran and Israel could also create such a crisis.

All of those things, unlikely as they are, would only bring this race back to a toss-up. Nate Silver recently used a football analogy to describe the election, a good choice, but I would make the lead even more extreme than he does. Right now, Obama is up 10 points in the 4th quarter and has possession. He is just running the ball to kill the clock. Romney needs a turnover, a touchdown and a field goal, as well as two defensive stops against Obama, just to get back into this election.

He must stop Obama’s momentum, then have great debates against Obama, chance upon poor economic numbers, and there also must be some sort of foreign policy crisis all before election day. But, as is the case in football, all of those things will only lead to a tied game; it’s quite possible that the aforementioned scenario could occur and Obama would still win.

So, can Romney still win? I must give all the appropriate caveats and say that, yes, he still has a chance of winning. But, I consider the scenario I listed above (or any other similarly good one for Romney) highly unlikely, and even such a scenario would only create a tossup election. So, while mathematically, Romney can still win, it’s safe to feel confident in President Obama’s chances of victory at this point.


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