Commentary: Don't Believe the Polls

Keith Boykin

Commentary: Don't Believe the Polls

Despite polls saying that President Obama is a shoo-in to win on Nov. 6, the presidential election isn't over until the electoral college votes are tallied.

Published September 25, 2012

If you believe the polls, President Obama will easily win re-election on Nov. 6. As of Tuesday morning, he's up in every national poll. And he's leading in every battleground state, including Florida, Ohio and Virginia. The president even holds a slight lead in North Carolina, a state that until recently looked like it might turn red.

As Obama surges, the Romney campaign is stumbling from one gaffe-filled week to another. One week it's Bain. Another week it's the Olympics. One week it's Todd Akin. Another week it's Clint Eastwood. One week it's politicizing the death of an ambassador in Libya. Another week it's politicizing class warfare against the 47 percent of Americans who Romney says don't pay income taxes. Romney hasn't had a good week since the GOP primary ended last spring.

The Romney team has been caught off guard so many times that prominent conservatives have started calling the campaign "incompetent."

So all this means Obama is a shoo-in, right? Not exactly. The Obama campaign still has a few more hurdles to cross before it reaches the finish line in November.

The first hurdle is the debates. When Mitt Romney walks on stage next week for the first time in a one-on-one debate, he gets one of his last and most important chances to make his case to the American people. Standing on the stage with the incumbent president also elevates Romney to a new level of seriousness as a candidate.

For all his strengths as a gifted orator, Obama is not the strongest debater. He can sometimes come across as aloof, distant and professorial in providing smart but long-winded answers. The good news for Obama is that Romney also comes across a bit distant as well. But Romney has had more recent experience in verbal conflict, after plodding his way through dozens of debates during the Republican primary process in the past year. Obama, on the other hand, hasn't had a debate since 2008.

Then there's the vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan. This may prove more entertaining than the three presidential matchups, but these debates rarely affect the outcome of the election. Remember, when Lloyd Bentsen famously smacked down Dan Quayle in 1988, it didn't stop Bush and Quayle from winning the election that year.

The next hurdle facing the Obama team is overconfidence. Once again, the 1988 campaign is instructive. After the Democratic Convention that year, Michael Dukakis led George Bush by 17 points in the Gallup Poll. But when it was all over, Dukakis lost by nearly 8 points in a Bush landslide.

Today, with polls showing the president on his way to re-election, pressure mounts on the Obama campaign to manage expectations, tamp down any sense of overconfidence and turn out its voters. If Obama voters think the president is already going to win, there's a real danger they may not go to the polls. If that happens, he could still lose.

Then there's the voter suppression hurdle. Republicans from Pennsylvania to Florida have made no secret of their effort to stop Democrats, African-Americans, Latinos and young people from voting. In Pennsylvania, one of the state's top Republicans bragged that the new voter ID law would allow Romney to win. In Ohio, Republicans tried to jerry-rig the voting deadlines to allow Republican counties to vote early while not allowing Democratic counties to do so. And in Florida, they've tried to intimidate voter registration groups by forcing them to turn in voter registration forms within 48 hours, making it difficult to sign-up voters on weekends, especially on Fridays, when it's impossible to turn in the registration forms until Monday.

Many of these voter suppression efforts are being challenged in the courts, but Republicans have still managed to make it much more difficult to vote in this election than in past elections. So today, on National Voter Registration Day, it's more important than ever that concerned citizens sign up and vote. If you don't vote, you get what you deserve, and you lose your right to complain for the next four years.

That leaves one last hurdle. In politics, they call it the "October surprise." That's the shocking revelation or the scandalous story that one campaign or another waits until the last minute to release, hoping to shake up the race. We don't know what could happen in the next six weeks, but nothing is certain until Nov. 6.

Yes, the polls are probably right. President Obama is in a strong position right now. But there's no guarantee he'll be in that position six weeks from now. In the end, the only poll that counts is the one on Election Day. 


Keith Boykin is a New York Times best-selling author and former White House aide to President Clinton. He attended Harvard Law School with President Barack Obama and currently serves as a TV political commentator. He writes political commentary for each week.


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Written by Keith Boykin


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