Lately, a whole host of Republicans have begun to fret over their candidate. Even with the favorable environment, is Romney too weak to win? Is he too cautious? Too vulnerable to the charge that he cares only about the wealthy? In The Hill, Niall Stanage aired a few of these complaints. However, for every conservative worried about Mitt Romney’s chances, there are others who see him as well positioned for victory. In the The Weekly Standard, for example, Jay Cost makes the argument that Obama is weak, unpopular, and poised for defeat:
Barack Obama is an unpopular president. You might never pick up on this if your only sources for information are NBC Nightly News and the New York Times. But that does not make it untrue. […]
Which president was the last one to win reelection with a job approval less than 50 percent among the electorate? Don’t worry if you are having trouble answering. It’s a trick question. Since they’ve been asking the question, the exit polls and the National Election Study have not found such a victor.
Actually, at this stage of the game in 2004, George W. Bush had an average approval rating of 48 percent, and trailed John Kerry in head-to-head match-ups with 45 percent of the vote. In the end, however he won a slight popular vote majority over Kerry, and a majority of the electoral college. At the moment, the 2012 election looks like a repeat performance, with Barack Obama playing the role of Bush.
To offer a stronger counterpoint, two things are true at the moment. First, Obama has mostly maintained a consistent lead in the Gallup tracking poll, and leads in every polling average. Second, his lead hasn’t diminished, and if you remove outliers, it has actually increased somewhat. His approval rating is near even — with equal amounts approval and disapproval — and as Greg noted this morning, according to the latest Post/ABC poll, his standing on the issues improves when compared directly to Romney.
Cost is right to say that attitudes about the president are nearly set in stone. But the conclusion to draw isn’t that Obama is on the way to defeat, it’s that Romney needs to do more to make himself an appealing alternative. Barring a major change in conditions, the leading candidate in the middle of the summer tends to maintain their position into the fall. In six of the last seven elections, according to Gallup, if you’re leading at the end of July — and into August — then odds are good that you’ll lead after Labor Day, up to the election. The sole exception is Michael Dukakis, who led George H.W. Bush until his support collapsed in the fall.
Obviously, this is imprecise, and a lot can change between now and November. Obama is only a slight favorite, and he has a real chance of losing. That said, campaigns have less of an effect than you think, and the pool of persuadable voters is small. Once the public has made up its mind, it tends to stick to its choice. At the moment, Obama has the lead, and it’s slowly moving upwards. Romney has the rest of the summer to improve his standing with the public and arrest Obama’s growth. If he can’t manage that, then odds are good that he’ll enter the fall at a real disadvantage.