Obama’s Sandy bounce and the popular vote

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Philip Klein

After Hurricane Sandy made landfall on Oct. 29, it gave President Obama the opportunity to play a bipartisan leader during a time of crisis a week before the election. At that time, Mitt Romney led President Obama by 0.8 points in the average of polls compiled by Real Clear Politics, and now, with the final wave of polls in, Obama leads by 0.7 points. There could be plenty of alternative explanations for these gains besides Sandy. But Gallup — which had Romney up five points before the storm, suspended polling during the storm, and now has him up just one — provides this tidbit:

Between Oct. 22-28 and Nov. 1-4, voter support for Obama increased by six points in the East, to 58% from 52%, while it held largely steady in the three other regions. This provides further support for the possibility that Obama’s support grew as a result of his response to the storm.

To be clear, I don’t want to be confused with somebody arguing that Romney had all the momentum and that Sandy cost him the election. If Romney loses, we’ll have plenty of time to debate what went wrong, but I wouldn’t be among those blaming Sandy. By my observation of polls, Romney got a huge boost after his dominant performance in the first debate, and then seemed to hit a wall in Ohio and other swing states after about a week or so. If I were asked to make a prediction before Sandy, I would have issued a similar one to the one I did yesterday — pointing to a narrow Obama Electoral College victory. We’ll know tonight whether the state polls on which I based my prediction were accurate.

However, if I were making a prediction prior to Sandy, I also would have given Romney much better odds of capturing the popular vote. And if Obama wins the popular vote by just a point or so, I think it would be reasonable to question whether Sandy was a factor.

All of that being said, I raised the possibility the other day that Obama’s Sandy bounce could fade at the last minute, something that polls taken over the weekend wouldn’t have been able to detect. Here, too, Gallup has some helpful numbers. The polling firm found that likely voters disapproved of Obama’s handling of the economy 56 percent to 42 percent, of foreign affairs 51 percent to 46 percent and of Libya 53 percent to 39 percent. In contrast, they overwhelmingly approved of his handling of Sandy, 68 percent to 24 percent. So, it’s perfectly conceivable that in a poll taken last Thursday through Sunday, likely voters, with images of Obama handling the storm in their minds, might say they’re voting for him. But when they get into the voting booth, fundamentals could prevail, particularly economic issues, promoting them to switch to Romney in the end. It’s also worth noting that the situation in the areas affected by Sandy is still pretty ugly, so people’s opinions about Obama’s great handling of the crisis may have changed by now and we just don’t know it yet, because polls are a lagging indicator.

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