WASHINGTON — The presidential race could still swing either way based on how voters view the economy in the next few weeks, prominent Democratic and Republican pollsters told Oklahoma business leaders here on Tuesday.
“Right now you see the two candidates and the two parties rated about equally on jobs,” Democratic pollster Celinda Lake told members of the State Chamber of Oklahoma, who are in town for their annual Washington briefings.
“We feel that as long as we're equal, we can win this election … If I had one number to give you to watch, it's watch what the ratings are after the combination of the debates and the (monthly) jobs report — watch where the two candidates are in their ratings on the economy.”
Republican pollster Ed Goeas said the race is reminiscent of the 1980 contest, in which Ronald Reagan overtook the incumbent Jimmy Carter in the last weeks after asking Americans if they were better off after four years of the president.
Goeas said Republican nominee Mitt Romney has now begun framing the question to voters as one of whether they could afford four more years of President Barack Obama.
“I believe if the voters walk into the polling place on election day and cannot affirmatively answer ‘Yes, I can afford four more years of Barack Obama,' they are going to vote against him,” Goeas said.
Goeas and Lake conduct the Politico-George Washington University Battleground Poll and offer their own perspectives on the numbers. In the most recent poll, released on Monday, Obama led Romney by two points.
Lake said the race was very tight and was down to a “very few undecided voters.”
The typical undecided voter at this point, Lake said, is a white mother without a college education between the ages of 44 and 55 who works outside the home and is worried about the economy and the impact on her family.
“She's the swing voter right now” and the person to whom both candidates should be aiming their debate messages, Lake said. That swing voter doesn't think the president is doing a good job right now, Lake said.
The electorate has never gone into the presidential debates as polarized as it is now, Lake said, raising the question of how much difference the debates can make.
Goeas said, “There are very few times the debates have a gotcha moment or a decisive event that occurs.”
Romney will be the beneficiary if he can go toe-to-toe with the president and convince people he could be a strong leader, Goeas said.
Romney may get an advantage from the fact that a strong majority of voters now believe Obama will win reelection, Goeas said.
“The last thing you want with your voters is them thinking you're going to win overwhelmingly because then it makes it too easy for them to have excuses not to vote … The ideal is to have your voters believing that you can win but it's close and it's going to be a loss if in fact they don't turn out,” Goeas said.