Can the Presidential Race Be That Tight This Early? Yup.

Michael Bitzer

Gallup Polling released a great set of data on their weekly tracking of the presidential race, with a 46-46 tie between the Democrat and Republican.  For the most part, it tracks with what other polls are saying about the Obama-Romney contest: with five months to go, it’s pretty much tied up with very few folks undecided. 

This isn’t really that unusual, considering what happened in 2008. Nationally, those who identified with one of the two major parties said they voted for their party’s nominee 90 percent of the time.  Among the independents, they split 52-44 percent for Obama.

In North Carolina, we saw the same general trend among Tar Heel partisans (90 percent of self-identified Democrats voted for Obama, 95 percent of self-identified Republicans voted for McCain), but independents went 60-39 percent for McCain.

The key to 2008, though, was that Democrats saw their share of the electorate increase to 42 percent from 39 percent from 2004, while Republicans dropped from 40 percent to 31 percent.

So it’s going to be a contest of “who shows up,” as it always is. But should we expect anything different as to the partisan polarization (some would say allegiance) this year?  Early indications appear to be a resounding “no” to that question.

A great resource to track the various polls (with links) is via Real Clear Politics website, with a page devoted to just North Carolina polls on the presidential race.

In consolidating various polls and arranging them in chronological order (see Figure 1), we see some general patterns emerge since the beginning of 2012. 

Various North Carolina Polls of Support of Democrats for Obama, Republicans for Romney, Independents for Obama and Independents for Romney since January 2012.

Among Republican support for Romney, it appears that his “presumptive” status as the nominee was strong at the beginning of the year in a head-to-head match-up with the president, and only intensified as he racked up wins towards claiming the 1,144 delegates for the nomination. 

By pulling nearly 90 percent of Tar Heel Republican support in May, Romney is dead-on when it comes to matching John McCain’s support by the party faithful four years ago. 

Among Democrats, their support is not as intense as it was four years ago, and that is to be expected. Expectations were, to say the least, overly high with Obama, and some let-down is to be expected, and we’re still a hot summer away from the traditional start of the general campaign.

But the recent release of the top 10 hottest advertising markets (from May 28 to June 24) shows that N.C. has the early hallmarks of the “battleground” status: Greensboro-High Point at #3, Raleigh-Durham #5, and Charlotte #8—and if you include the #1 Norfolk-Portsmouth VA covering the Northeast portion of the state, you’ve got a significant portion of the state seeing ads between Obama and Romney now.

Maybe the twists and turns of the independents could be a reason why both camps are spending heavily in North Carolina.  With some room to grow for both Romney and Obama (and apparently indecisiveness as well on indies part), it will be interesting to track these three groups in the polls over the next few months (and I’ll post the same chart over the next couple of months).

My prediction: not much movement in Republicans for Romney, some potential shoring up among Democrats for Obama. And, as usual, independent voters will make or break how North Carolina will swing this fall.

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