For all of the polls that are flying out almost hourly now, there are two common trends emerging: Mitt Romney is leading independents by healthy margins, and who holds the overall lead is entirely dependent on the party split within the sample. As of last night, Romney has a razor thin lead of eight tenths of a point nationally against an average Democratic partisan advantage of 4.4 points. In 2008, Barack Obama won the election by 7.2 points (52.9–45.7) and Democrats outnumbered Republicans by eight points. Compared to the average today, Obama has dropped eight points while only losing 2.6 points of the turnout advantage. That is due entirely to Romney’s strength with independent voters, and reason enough to sound the alarm in Chicago.
But of all the polls that have been released, there are two polls that will have Team Obama waking up in a cold sweat knowing that if these polls are even somewhat accurate they might be on the other end of a dramatic victory on Election Day: The party-affiliation polls from Gallup and Rasmussen.
Gallup released a demographic poll of likely voters from October 1 through October 24. The poll is of 9,424 likely voters — a large enough sample that the maximum margin of error is one point. What that means is unlike smaller national polls, this is a very comprehensive poll of the electorate that has much more reliability, especially in the subgroups, than any current national poll. The headline of the poll, “2012 U.S. Electorate Looks Like 2008,” would make Team Obama want to pick up the phone and reserve Grant Park for election-night festivities, but looking at the data inside may have them preferring to rent out a Lou Malnati’s so they could drown their sorrows in a deep-dish pizza as the results pour in.
In 2008 Gallup found the party breakdown of the electorate to be 39 percent Democrats, 29 percent Republicans, and 31 percent independents. That ten-point advantage grew to twelve points when independents were asked which party they typically leaned to, with 54 percent identifying as Democrats and 42 percent Republicans.