But if Obama wins re-election on Tuesday, it won’t be because he ran a better campaign than Republican rival Mitt Romney.
No, Romney has had the better 2012 campaign.
Ever since he blindsided Obama in the first presidential debate, the former governor has been riding a wave of momentum — er, Mittmentum — at one point in late October shooting a couple of points ahead of the president in daily tracking polls. Romney hasn’t made a huge gaffe in the final act of this election, banging through his talking points, nailing all of the photo ops, and capitalizing on the Obama camp’s admittedly very lackluster re-election bid.
Let’s be honest, in terms of campaigning, Obama has been a snoozer.
Obama has at times looked tired … even disinterested in winning this election. Sure, he has a job to do, and it’s honorable that he’s been able to manage the nation through a critical time this last week. But Obama has in no way been inspiring on the campaign trail. His speeches aren’t mesmerizingly memorable. This isn’t 2008. Obama is running purely on the weight of his policies (which are far and away better than Romney’s own in every capacity … but what voter actually votes based on the weight of policies?).
An election is a pageant. And this time around the less done-up candidate will win. Obama will have two factors to thank for that.
First, there is Hurricane Sandy, the October Surprise of all October Surprises.
And then there is Gary Johnson, the third party Libertarian candidate running for president.
Most national polls have more or less discounted the libertarian. But Johnson will truly be an X factor in this election — pulling enough votes away from Romney to win Obama the Electoral College.
Johnson hasn’t even really registered much on the national scene (not to discount the other third party candidates, but Johnson is the one being recognized has having the potential spoiler effect). This in itself is massively shocking. In Ohio — the swing state of all swing states — Johnson will likely tear a full percentage point away from Romney in the polls. With the presidential race as tight as it is, even that single point in Ohio could turn the election.
Yet many of the popular polling outlets discount Johnson in their everyday methodology. The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Saturday, for instance, shows the race tied, with Obama and Romney each attracting support from 48% of voters nationwide. One percent prefers some other candidate, 2% are still undecided. Johnson isn’t even mentioned, though he is polling above 1% in a number of key states.
So where does Johnson poll nationally in election 2012?
It doesn’t seem like a comprehensive national poll has included Johnson — or any other third party candidate for that matter — since a Zogby Analytics poll in early October. That poll put Johnson at 2%. Still, other national polls only two weeks earlier in late September, placed Johnson anywhere from 3% to 6% nationally.
We don’t know how much Johnson is polling today, but we do know it is a couple points … likely around 3% or 4%. That’s on the macro level, the broad scope of things.
On the micro level, in individual states themselves, Johnson seems to be running strong against his heavy weight Democratic and Republican rivals. In Ohio, for instance, Johnson is surging — polling at 5%, according to a CNN poll taken Thursday. The same poll had him at 4% nine days ago. In Late October, a University of Cincinnati poll had Johnson at 2%. A We Ask America poll had Johnson at 1% in early October.
In Florida, Johnson has consistently polled at 1%. In Colorado he hasn’t dropped below 4%.
So what does this mean? Well, if Johnson is getting any votes at all, that means that the two main candidates are in effect losing votes.
As Public Policy Polling reports, in the critically important battle ground state of Colorado, when Johnson is included in the poll he gets 4% and pulls more from Romney than Obama, pushing the president's lead up to 49% to Romney’s 44%.
In Ohio, CNN reports that Johnson would pull 3% from Romney and 2% from Obama.
Sure, Johnson isn’t making it into national polls, but, as the New York Times Nate Silver reports, state polls kind of mean a hell of a whole lot more than their national counterparts. Less room editorialize and pimp out an agenda.
Johnson’s impact in this election is so simple: in a historic presidential race that nearly all polling outlets are reporting as too close to call, even the slightest 1% or 2% edge is critical.
Johnson is the X factor nobody is really talking about.
Johnson gives Obama the edge. And Obama can thank Johnson for helping get re-elected.