I'm not looking for any commentary on the debate itself, or on the press coverage thereof, or of Obama's qualifications or character (or Romney's). We know O lost the debate--in the sense that the majority of the public (and the press) seems to think so; the time for arguing otherwise has long past (and the D-leaning punditocracy whiffed).
I'm not interested in any meta-analysis of the polls--questions concerning their quality, reliability, or bias. There's plenty of that elsewhere. Even if you discard the surplus of R-leaning pollsters that have been "flooding the zone" in the past week and a half, there has been a noticeable shift in the Romney direction.
The question I'm interested in is this:
Where is the shift coming from?
How much comes from:
* Morale gains among solid R voters?
* Morale losses among solid D voters?
* Independents/undecideds moving into the R column?
* Democratic-leaners becoming undecided, or moving into the R column?
Knowing this is important to know how to deal with it.
Undermining Republican morale is something that is hard to control--the best way to do that is by simply beating them; which is what was happening until Wednesday last.
Democratic morale is something we can do something about--this is why I (and many others) get pissed off at the "woe is us!" crowd that has ramped up in the past week. Guys--if you are really bummed and think we're doomed, keep it to yourselves, at least until after the election. Go have a beer, smoke a joint, climb a mountain, or do whatever makes you happy. Or go watch the Biden debate; we can win on policy arguments. But quit crapping your drawers; if you have nothing else to contribute other than soiled linens, the door is thataway.
The interesting case is the latter one: a shift to Romney among the middle. Repairing this will probably require a fundamental hit against Romney--such as a frontal attack by Obama in the next debate. A theory some have advocated is that Debate #1 made Romney look "presidential"; undoing the past several months of gaffes and missteps. Romney is still vulnerable here--all liars are--but it will take a direct assault on his veracity. To put it short--Obama's mission on Tuesday isn't so much to debate Romney on policy, but to expose him as the flim-flam artist he is.
A couple interesting data points to note:
- A shift in morale is evidenced by changes in likely-voter (LV) models; two weeks ago many of these were even or even favoring Democrats; now Gallup is claiming a LV/RV discrepancy of about +4R. Those are close to 2010 numbers, not 2008 numbers. GOTV remains crucial; if those who say they are going to (or likely to) vote for Obama do vote for Obama, he likely wins. But if it really is R+4, Obama will have great difficulty winning.
- His approval rating (according to Gallup) is trending upwards, including a post-debate sample. Gallup's latest 3-day sample has him at 50-46 (+6), ordinarily good news for an incumbent (incumbents who are well-liked usually don't lose). What to make of this disconnect with polling data--I don't know; other than that it appears that Romney is up on a pedestal right now. Which suggests that he needs to be knocked off of it.
Potential game-changers (for Obama):
- Another gaffe tape appears. Romney will probably apologize for that, of course--it seems that he's gotten permission from the right-wing to move to the center (except on abortion), and try to brush it off as another campaign-trial lapse in judgement.
- The tax returns. What if Romney were to be asked, specifically: "Have you ever been investigated or penalized by the IRS for tax evasion, or participated in any IRS amnesty programs"? The fact that he was willing to disclose (via accountants) that he paid a 13% rate over the past few years, but is still unwilling to disclose the actual contents of the returns themselves, suggests that there is something in there more damaging than just getting a boat-load of rich-guy tax breaks.