In 2008, President Obama won the key swing states of Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio because he won the independent vote and drove up Democratic turnout. In 2010, independents swung to the Republican side by voting for Republican governors and senators in all three states. Also, the Democratic voter turnout surge in 2008, declined in 2010. What will happen in 2012? Which way will Independents go in these critical battlegrounds? Will there be a Democratic surge in 2012 as big as 2008? The answer to these questions will tell us whether President Obama will be reelected or not.
According to the most recent Quinnipiac University polls, more Independents disapprove than approve of President Obama’s job performance in all three of these key swing states. In Pennsylvania 56 percent disapprove, while only 40 percent approve; in Florida 52 percent disapprove, compared to 42 percent who approve; in Ohio 54 percent disapprove, while 42 percent approve. While these are not good numbers for the President, he still has 14 months to turn them around.
It’s also important to remember that elections are about choices. While the President is not beloved among independents, neither are the leading GOP Presidential candidates. In Quinnipiac’s most recent national poll, Rick Perry’s net favorability score among independents was a “negative 3” (19 percent favorable/22 percent unfavorable), with 55 percent saying they haven’t heard enough about him. The fact that most independents don’t have an opinion of Perry means that he has a lot of room for growth in either a positive or negative direction. Romney is better known and better liked than Perry among Independents nationwide but also has a large “Don’t Know”. Romney has a net favorability score of “plus 15” (39 percent favorable/24 percent unfavorable) with 35 percent who haven’t heard enough.
Unlike the Republican candidates, almost everyone has an opinion about the President. Independent voters are split on President Obama (45 percent favorable/48 percent unfavorable)
Both President Obama and the eventual Republican nominee will be trying to do the same things. They both want to excite their bases to drive up their party’s turnout but at the same time they want to appeal to the center to win independent voters. The advantage President Obama has is that he can start appealing to independent voters now because he doesn’t have to worry about campaigning for the nomination. The Republican nominee must appeal to the “conservative” base now to win the nomination and then try to move back to the center.
A nasty fight for the nomination could also weaken the eventual Republican nominee for the general election.