Let’s put the latest iteration of the Washington Post/ABC poll in perspective. In an electoral model where Republican turnout drops 9 points in two years, and comes in 7 points lower than its generational nadir in 2008, then it’s certainly probable that Barack Obama might edge Mitt Romney by three points. In fact, that may be the only way Obama could possibly win at this point:
On the eve of their second debate, President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney remain locked in a virtual dead heat nationally, with Republicans showing increased enthusiasm for their nominee after his big win in the first debate, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Likely voters in the new poll split 49 percent for Obama to 46 percent for Romney, basically unmoved from the poll two weeks ago, just before the two candidates met in Denver for their first debate. On topic after topic, the survey portrays an electorate that remains deeply divided along partisan lines and locked in its views. …
But more people changed their views of Romney, largely in a positive direction. Overall, more than twice as many say their opinions of the former Massachusetts governor improved than say they worsened as a result of the debate. The strongest reaction is among Romney backers, 70 percent of whom say Denver made them think more highly of the GOP nominee.
The improvement in views of Romney carries directly into the underpinnings of his support: Fewer of his supporters now express anxiety about a Romney administration, and the number of his backers saying they support him “very enthusiastically” jumped by double digits. Among the likely voters supporting Romney, 62 percent now do so intensely, exactly double the number who were eagerly lined up behind Republican nominee John McCain at this stage in the campaign four years ago.
And yet, with all that enthusiasm on display, the partisan split among likely voters in this poll is a jaw-dropping D+9, 35/26/33. The D/R/I in 2008’s presidential election was a D+7 at 39/32/29, while the midterm was 35/35/30, Is there any reason to think that Democratic participation will be so off-the-charts huge that it will reduce Republican participation by nearly a third from the midterm elections, our most recent model of the electorate? No, as the Post’s own findings on enthusiasm show.
If you want to know how this election is heading, at least for the moment, take a look at the independent vote. Romney leads it by six points, 48/42, with just over three weeks to go. Obama won indies by eight in 2008, 52/44, on his way to a seven-point win overall. The only way Obama can be leading by three while suffering a fourteen-point reversal in the gap among indies is to have an overwhelming Democratic base turnout, which would have to be prompted by a huge enthusiasm gap favoring Democrats — which hasn’t turned up in any poll, including this one.
And even with the D+9 sample advantage, Obama’s lead is stuck within the margin of error, and he still can’t get to 50%. Even in an alternate universe, Obama’s in trouble.