Presidential Polls: Obama Narrowly Leads in Ohio, But Incumbent Rule Could Doom Him


Ohio lives up to its notoriety again. Seven pre-election polls released in the swing state in the last 48 hours showed Obama +2, Obama +3, Obama +3, Obama +3, Obama +5, Obama +5, Obama +5. Only one poll, released by Rasmussen, has Romney leading, 49% to 47%.  

With numbers changing every day, the fate of Ohio’s 18 electoral votes will most likely be the biggest surprise of the 2012 presidential race. Reports have President Barack Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney visiting the battleground state six times in the four days leading up to the election.

However, the Incumbent Rule could throw a wrench in the Obama campaign. This phenomenon holds that incumbents rarely get a higher percentage of the vote than they receive in pre-election polls because undecided voters would break decisively to challengers in the final days of the campaign. That means Romney would win Ohio, and the presidency. The Incumbent Rule has been deemed dormant by many in recent years, arguing that incumbents have in fact become more aggressive in their campaigning rather than simply riding on their past accomplishments. This allows undecided voters to make their decisions earlier rather than on Election Day itself, making the pre-polls fairly accurate.

In 2004, former President and then-incumbent George W. Bush led Democratic rival Senator John Kerry 48.4% to 46.1% in Ohio pre-election polls. President Bush did indeed win Ohio by a small margin, debunking the incumbent rule for that year.

Since 1960, no Republican has won the presidency without carrying Ohio. And it certainly seems to be the key to Romney’s path to the White House. Without Ohio, Romney would need to win Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire and Florida to gather enough electoral votes to defeat Obama —definitely an incredible task.

Romney should hope that the Incumbent Rule wakes up from its long nap and works in his favor.