The polls are clear. Since the fallout from the first debate in Denver on October 3, Romney has enjoyed a relatively durable lead over the president in the Real Clear Politics average of the national polls. While the lead is small, it has persisted over time, and, more important, history suggests that this is trouble for an incumbent. The only sitting president to mount a last-minute comeback against his challenger was Gerald Ford in 1976, and of course Ford still lost. Usually, late deciders in a presidential campaign either break for the challenger or split about evenly between the two sides.
The problem for the president is Romney’s strong and sustained lead among independent voters. Despite four years of boasting from the Democrats that they were in the process of transforming the electorate, the fact remains that voters unaffiliated with either party determine the outcome of national elections. And with these voters, Romney has a substantial lead. The most recent Rasmussen Reports poll shows Romney besting Obama by 13 points, 52 percent to 39 percent, among unaffiliated voters. Since 1972, the first year of exit polling, no candidate for president has won election while losing independents by such a wide margin.