More state polls on the presidential race are out today, but in the spirit of listening to my own advice I’m going to ignore them — and talk instead about a new election forecast estimate from one of the political scientists with a strong track record for these sorts of things, Alan Abramowitz:
“So what does our improved forecasting model indicate about President Obama’s chances of winning a second term in the White House? That depends of course on the growth rate of the economy during the first two quarters of the year. The government’s initial estimate of real GDP growth during the first quarter of 2012 was about 2 percent, and growth during the second quarter is expected to be similar. If we assume that real GDP will grow by 2 percent during the first half of 2012, the full forecasting model predicts that Obama will end up with 51% of the major party vote in November.”
That’s based, in addition to the GDP estimates, on Obama’s current approval rating of about 47 percent and that Democrats have only held the White House for one term, a big part of Abramowitz’s model.
First, this is generally consistent with what I’ve seen from the other political scientists and economists who I believe are worth listening to: If the economy continues to chug along at the current not-very-impressive rate, we should expect a close election. The only real outlier is the Larry Bartels model, which gives Obama “credit” for entering the White House when the economy was terrible, and thus makes him a solid favorite for reelection.
Beyond that, I’d emphasize that the economic numbers above are very, very rough estimates. That includes the first quarter GDP number — it’s not unusual at all for those numbers to change significantly before they become final. As for Abramowitz’s guess of 2 percent for the current quarter, it’s certainly nothing more than a guess.
And then there’s always the possibility that the campaigns or candidates could shift things a few points either way, although I continue to think that Mitt Romney will basically play as a generic Republican and that Barack Obama is just a touch more popular than the fundamentals would predict . . . unless the fundamentals include the Bartels effect.
When people ask me these days (and one of the hazards of this business is that people do ask you. A lot.), I say that Obama is a slight favorite — but also that there too many unknowns for anyone to really have any confidence, and at any rate I’m not very good at these sorts of predictions. But I do think we should put at least a little weight on the Abramowitz predictor. It’s yet another sign we could have a close one this year.