The presidential election may be determined as much by people who do not vote as those who do, Suffolk University pollster David Paleologos told the AIM Executive Forum today.
Drawing from a survey he conducted with USA Today during the summer, Paleologos estimated that between 90 and 95 million eligible American adults will not cast ballots for president in November, far more than the 70 million people who voted for Barack Obama in 2008. The unlikely voters tilt heavily Democratic and are disillusioned with the economy, creating a challenge for the president to bring people who were once ardent supporters back into the electoral process.
The ultimate object for President Obama is to use the support of the unlikely voters to boost his 47 percent poll ratings to 50 percent.
“That is why President Obama decided in April and May to take money out of television … and put it into getting people to the polls,” Paleologos told several hundred business leaders at the Executive Forum.
“This is a treasure trove for President Obama, but the problem is that the president does not have the key to open the treasure trove.”
Who are the people who will not vote? Fifty-two percent believe the United States is going in the wrong direction, while 34 percent believe it is on the right track. Seventy-eight percent believe that the recession is not over. Forty-three percent would vote for President Obama, while 14 percent would vote for Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
A key point for the president, Paleologos said, is that 80 percent of Obama supporters and 70 percent of Romney backers say they would vote if their ballot could swing a close election.
“Ironically, if they think you are going to win, it serves as one more reason in long list of reasons they won’t vote,” Paleologos said.
The electoral map for the presidential race, according to Paleologos, will depend in large measure on Romney’s ability to win the key states of Florida and Ohio. And even if the former Massachusetts governor pulls upsets in those states, he still faces challenges in Virginia and Colorado, where third-party candidates could affect the outcome.
In the Massachusetts Senate race, a new Suffolk poll indicates that support from Democrats, women and minorities, along with a strong performance at the Democratic National Convention, has pushed challenger Elizabeth Warren slightly ahead of incumbent Republican Scott Brown.
Paleologos said the poll, released on Monday, found Warren in front of Brown by 48 percent to 44 percent. The gap was within the poll’s margin of error, but marked a reversal from Suffolk polls in May and February showing Brown with a slight lead.
Warren is being helped, the poll shows, by widening support among traditional constituencies such as women (52 percent to 38 percent), Democrats (81 percent to 13 percent), supporters of President Barack Obama (72 percent to 19 percent) and minority voters (70 percent to 22 percent). Brown continues to enjoy a significant advantage with independent voters ( 55 percent to 34 percent).
The statewide Suffolk University survey was conducted September 13- 16, beginning a week after the Democrats completed back-to-back conventions with the Republicans. The poll of 600 likely voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The findings mirror two other polls released over the weekend and contradict a separate poll conducted by the Boston Herald.
“We’ve got a race here,” Paleologos said.