The Horserace Hasn’t Changed, but Maybe the Game Has

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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at a Victory town hall in Bowling Green, Ohio, July 18, 2012.

On Twitter, Nate Silver points out the funny fact that when you type “game changer Obama Romney” into Google News, you get 2,860 results just for the last 30 days. This is funny not because we in the news bidness beat cliches like a dead horse (see?), but because the Obama-Romney contest has been remarkably stable.

Here’s a graph of all the polling from the last 30 days of game-changering action:

Excited yet? Now check out the last 20 months:

The obvious lesson is that we in the press (me included) overreact to statistical noise in day-to-day horserace polling. That’s pretty much human nature. But here’s another: This presidential race is incredibly close, getting closer over time, and a landslide is unlikely. Sure, that means that  Romney releasing or not releasing his tax returns isn’t going to restructure the fundamentals of the race–change the game, if you will. But it also means that the little stuff at the margins could be decisive.

Obama pollster Joel Benenson, who claims Democratic attacks on Bain are having an effect, offered one explanation for the stability of the race at a breakfast with reporters Wednesday in Washington. The number of voters who’ve already made up their minds is higher than usual, he said, and both campaigns are focusing their persuasive power on a tiny part of the country.  “When we look back at this, we may say, `Boy there was more money spent in this campaign, between the PACs and everything else, to influence a smaller number of people than we ever have before,”’ he said. So the game has changed. Maybe the historians will come up with a better phrase.