Both the Obama and Romney campaigns are going to be focused on a select group of voters in the final two weeks until election day. They are operating under the assumption that minds can be changed in the last weeks and, indeed, they can. But the real question is which minds and where are they?
First, 40 of the 50 states have already been decided for quite some time. With respect to non-swing states, the electoral map has barely shifted throughout the campaign.
This leaves us with 10 swing states that are going to decide the election. Within these states there are just five to seven percent of the electorate that remain undecided at this point. This means that in a country of roughly 300 million people there are maybe one to 1.5 million voters that can still be influenced in these final two weeks.
The tactics employed by both candidates in Monday night’s foreign policy debate were clearly geared towards these remaining undecided voters.
Governor Romney was saying to people who thought that he was too extreme – and too inexperienced – that he is closer to the moderate governor of Massachusetts he once was than the extreme candidate that we saw in the Republican primaries.
His support for Obama’s agenda in Iran, Syria and Afghanistan highlighted that he is not interested in fighting, but in peaceful solutions and protecting American interests.
The Mitt Romney we saw Monday night was not reckless, but cautious and knowledgeable. Most of all, he was competent and presidential.
President Obama’s goal in the debate was to appeal to working class democrats and independents. He emphasized his role in bailing out the auto industry, his plan for creating jobs and balancing the budget by raising taxes on the highest earners, not the middle class. He came across as centrist rather than liberal – more former President Clinton than the Obama we have seen throughout the campaign.
The rest of the campaign will be fought between the two men we saw on Monday night. The moderate and conciliatory Governor Romney and the centrist President Obama. And it will be fought in just a few key states – even less than the ten total that are still up for grabs according to the Real Clear Politics electoral map.
The Obama campaign has all but conceded that they will not win Florida and North Carolina where it is looking increasingly likely that Romney will come out on top. And although Virginia is currently tied, the expectation is that it will go to Romney. They also expect that they will win Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
This means that the election is effectively about Ohio, Iowa, New Hampshire, Colorado and Nevada. As I argue above, only five to seven percent of the electorate in each of these states can still be persuaded and we are therefore talking about less than a million voters who have yet to make up their minds and will, when they do, decide this election.
If we look even more closely at the electoral map and the number of votes each state carries, of those that are still in play, and once we have excluded those that are technically toss ups but have been more or less decided, it really all comes down to Ohio.
With 18 electoral votes, it is one of the most valuable on the map. And it has become increasingly insecure for an Obama campaign that has gone from a five to seven point lead in early October to only a one or two point edge. In fact, Tuesday’s Suffolk poll had the race tied in Ohio.
All in all, there are less than a million Americans out there that are going to be the target of the final campaign push. Romney will be courting the working class swing voters in Ohio and Obama will be fighting to keep them. These are the people who are the most persuadable at this point and with such a small number of voters driving the outcome of the election, it is all the more clear how deadlocked this race really is.