Why the presidential race is going to be closer than you think

at 06:35 AM ET, 04/17/2012

The dominant narrative since the beginning of 2012 has been that President Obama has regained his footing after a rocky 2011 and is trending upward. Ask 10 political types who will win in November, and eight of them (or so) will say Obama.


Romney takes the stage at Alpha Graphics in Hartford, Conn., on April 11.
But, like all conventional wisdom, it’s only true until it changes. And, on Monday, a new poll came out that provided at least a hint that the CW might be in for a shift.

In Gallup’s first tracking poll of the general election, Romney took 47 percent to Obama’s 45 percent nationally.

Both men won 90 percent of their self-identified partisans, with Romney’s overall margin coming from his six-point edge among independent voters.

Before we go any further, it’s worth making note of a few caveats.

1. On Monday, CNN released data that showed a much different picture: Obama with a nine-point edge over Romney.

2. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll showed the former Massachusetts governor with a 35 percent favorable rating and a 47 percent unfavorable rating — not exactly stellar numbers.

3. All polls amount to a snapshot in time, making it difficult to draw broad conclusions from any single one.

Even taking into account those three caveats, however, there’s reason to suspect that the race is heading toward a closer result — both in the near and long term — than most people currently think.

Here’s why:

It’s obvious from the Post-ABC poll — among many others — that the protracted Republican primary has been a net negative for Romney. Just 32 percent of people had a favorable view of the Republican primaries in the Post-ABC poll, while 56 percent had an unfavorable one. (Those seeing it strongly unfavorably outnumbered those viewing it strongly favorably by a three-to-one margin.)

But the Republican primary is over now. And so this moment is likely to be Romney’s low ebb (or close to it). Yes, many Republicans would have preferred someone other than Romney to be their nominee. And yes, they will vote for Romney when matched up against Obama. (The fact that 90 percent of self-identified Republicans went with Romney in the Gallup poll is a telling indicator of that fact.)

And even if Romney is at his low ebb at the moment, it’s not that low an ebb. Here’s the Real Clear Politics polling average for the Obama vs Romney race:

The simple fact is that this election will turn on how people feel about the state of the economy and whether they think Obama or Romney is better equipped to make things better in the future.

In a Post-ABC survey conducted earlier this month, 47 percent said they trusted Romney to better handle the economy, while 43 percent said Obama. That same poll showed 44 percent of people approving of how Obama is handling the economy, while 54 percent disapproved.

The focus over the past few months has been entirely on Romney and his shortcomings. (And, he has plenty.) But, with the general election now joined, Obama — and his handling of the economy — will take on a more featured role in the conversation.

If next month’s economic report is perceived to be as disappointing as the March report, it’s easy to see Romney narrowing his deficit against Obama or even opening up a slight lead.

And remember that most challengers to a presidential incumbent get a chance at a re-introduction to the American people, and a second (or, for many people, first) look at the nominee might actually look like a president. While the dominant image of Romney at the moment is as a diffident and out of touch executive, it’s not impossible to imagine that he could emerge from this reintroduction process as a sort of economic fix-up artist — a profile that could have real appeal to the ideological middle.

Given those realities, it’s hard to see Obama running away with a victory unless the economy begins to soar sometime very soon. That seems unlikely. This is going to be — unless something drastic changes — a very, very close election.

League of Conservation Voters targets Holden primary: Rep. Tim Holden’s (D-Pa.) tough primary just got tougher.

The League of Conservation Voters today will announce a $230,000 ad buy against the incumbent congressman, who already faces a well-funded primary opponent and opposition from the anti-incumbent super PAC, the Campaign for Primary Accountability.

The LCV ad hits Holden for supporting then-president George W. Bush’s energy plan in 2003, which the ad says “gave billions in taxpayer subsidies to big oil companies,” while opposing Obama’s plan.

“On Tuesday, say no to Bush’s big oil energy policies, and say no to Tim Holden,” the ad says.

Holden’s opponent, attorney Matt Cartwright, raised and self-funded more than $700,000 in the first quarter, and CPA has already spent $130,000 against the incumbent, meaning Holden is likely to have more than $1 million spent against him in total in next week’s primary.

For more on the race, see Shira Toeplitz’s piece in Roll Call this morning.

Poll shows Americans want debt reduction: Seventy-one percent of Americans think any additional federal revenue should go to pay down the national debt and deficit, versus 16 percent who say it should be used for new government programs, according to a new poll from GOP pollster Tarrance Group for the debt-reduction group Public Notice.

But 54 percent of Americans think Obama would use the money for new programs, while just 27 percent think he would use it to put a dent in the debt and deficit. (The types of new programs were not specified in the poll.)

The results of the new poll show Americans are evenly split on the question of whether the economy is getting better or getting worse, but they agree when it comes to emphasizing the debt and deficit, with 79 percent saying the level of government spending is extremely or very important to them.

“It’s time for Congress to stop nibbling around the edges and to start with real cuts to spending now because we cannot tax our way out of a debt that is over $15.5 trillion,” Public Notice executive director Gretchen Hamel said.

The full polling memo can be found here.

Fixbits:

Ann Romney says the family dog Seamus “loved” riding strapped atop the family car.

Newt Gingrich got bit by a penguin at the zoo. Seriously.

Herman Cain sounds like he may want to revisit that Gingrich endorsement.

The Buffett Rule fails in the Senate, with only Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) voting against their parties.

Former Democratic National Committee chairman and Virginia Senate candidate Tim Kaine isn’t completely on-board with the current Buffett Rule push.

John McCain stumps for Sen. Sherrod Brown’s (D-Ohio) GOP opponent, state Treasurer Josh Mandel.

Democratic-leaning automated pollster Public Policy Polling shows the open Wisconsin Senate race is a virtual tie, regardless of whether former governor Tommy Thompson or former congressman Mark Neumann wins the GOP primary.

Outgoing Washington governor Chris Gregoire (D) endorses Suzan DelBene for the former congressman Jay Inslee’s (D-Wash.) seat. Inslee resigned to run for governor. DelBene lost to Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) in 2010.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) endorses fellow former U.S. attorney Susan Brooks in the race to succeed retiring Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.).

Must-reads:

Hunt commences for a vice president pick” — David A. Fahrenthold, Washington Post

SC governor’s memoir under fire” — Gina Smith, The State

Democrats recruit candidates outside political arena” — Susan Davis, Wall Street Journal

 
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