Barack Obama wanted to change the direction of American politics, and it looks as though he has succeeded — to his own detriment. A new USA Today/Gallup poll shows a nine-point change in party identification in the swing states that Obama must carry to win re-election next year. And despite the fractious nature of the Republican primary at the moment, either of the two top candidates would beat Obama overall in these states:
The contrasting conditions of the nation’s two major political parties — discouraged Democrats and resurgent Republicans — underscore how different Obama’s re-election campaign is from the contest four years ago.
Consider the math: In 2008, when Obama carried the swing states by 8 percentage points, Democrats there swamped Republicans in party identification by 11 points. Now, that partisan edge has tightened to a statistically insignificant 2 points.
That’s not the only problem facing Democrats next year. In 2008, thanks to Bush fatigue and Obama’s populism, Democratic voter enthusiasm helped lift Obama to a seven-point victory in the national popular vote, and an eight-point lead in the swing states. That has now flipped in favor of the Republicans — by a very wide margin:
And the “enthusiasm gap” that helped fuel a Democratic victory last time has turned into a Republican asset. Sixty-one percent of Republicans say they are extremely or very enthusiastic about voting for president next year, compared with 47% of Democrats.
Among the most enthusiastic are some of the GOP‘s core voters: conservatives, middle-aged men and those 50 to 64 years old. Those who are least enthused include core Democratic groups that were critical to Obama’s election in 2008, including minorities and younger voters.
Which states did Gallup and USA Today poll?
This is the second in a series of surveys that USA TODAY and Gallup will be taking through the 2012 campaign focused on 12 swing states: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico,North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.
The bad news for Obama? He won every one of those states in 2008. If Republicans flip all of these states, the Republicans will win the Electoral College, 326-212. If Obama hangs onto a couple of traditional Democratic states — say, Pennsylvania and Michigan — it’s a lot closer at 288-250. However, Obama also carried the normally Republican state of Indiana in 2008, which the USA Today/Gallup survey treats as a non-swing state. Putting Indiana back in the Republican column changes that calculation to 299-239, and the first calculation to 337-201.
There’s more bad news for Team Obama as well, which is the nature of head-to-head comparisons while only one party has a contested primary. The GOP has not united behind a single candidate, and the passions of the primary fight will act to depress the results for those candidates. The key here is that Obama can’t get above 45% in these swing states against either candidate, which indicates that the actual general-election results could be significantly worse — perhaps a 10-point loss. After all, Obama himself told CBS that he will be judged against the alternative, and that low polling figure at this stage in swing states bodes ill for Obama in that comparison.