According to the Obama campaign, and to the political scientist who calculates a widely accepted measure of the actual voting-eligible turnout rate, it's not such a desperate situation for Obama after all.
In recent years, according to Michael McDonald, a government and politics professor at George Mason University, the Census' Current Population Survey statistic the Post relied on has varied in a troubling way with the ultimate turnout figures. Whether you compare presidential years (2004 and 2008) or midterm-years (2006 and 2010) the CPS measure has found turnout decreasing. The opposite has been the case.
That, McDonald argues, is because of a peculiarity in the way Census compiles its registration and turnout figures. It asks one adult to answer for all members of a household, and counts those who fail to respond "yes" or "no" to the voting survey question as having not voted.
When you revisit the numbers after throwing out all the non-respondents, the results track the official figures much more closely.
What does all this have to do with registration (as opposed to turnout)? When you perform the same correction to the registration results -- the ones the Post used -- the problem goes away.
"The corrected data show that Hispanics are registered at a statistically-indistinguishably slightly higher turnout rate than 2006 and Blacks have experienced a significant registration increase," McDonald writes. "The Obama campaign appears better situated in terms of registering of Blacks and Hispanics in the wake of the 2010 election than in the wake of the 2006 election. That these minority populations are also growing in size relative to the non-Hispanic White population should give more worry to the Romney campaign than to the Obama campaign."
Asked for comment, the Obama campaign cited a rejoinder written Monday by Clo Ewing, Obama's director of constituency press. Rather than use the Post report to feed registration efforts, the campaign disputes it outright. Ewing notes that millions of African American and Latino voters have registered since November 2010, when the Census was taken.
Ewing also argues, "when you compare the number of Latino and African American voters in November 2010 to those in November 2006, or compare the rolls in May 2012 to May 2008, it's clear that the number goes up, not down, in each case."
That's not to say that the fallout from the economic and housing crises hasn't complicated Obama's re-election efforts in a number of ways. But they think they have a handle on this one.