Mitt Romney leads President Obama — and other ‘dumb’ polls

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CNN released a new poll Sunday showing Mitt Romney leading President Obama 53 to 44 in a hypothetical rematch of their 2012 campaign.

The response from the political left was predictable:

. . . as it was from the right:

The liberal backlash falls into two camps: 1) This is a really dumb poll because there is no way Obama could run for reelection, and 2) This is a really dumb poll because there is no presidential election in July 2014 -- or in 2014 at all. (Or both.)

Conservatives, meanwhile, see vindication for their side and further proof that Obama's second term is considered a mistake.

Both sides are reading far too much into the poll -- as is anybody who thinks it tells us anything we pretty much didn't already know.

The poll is a pure hypothetical that tells us nothing about an election that will or even could happen, given those pesky term-limit laws. It also doesn't mean, as conservatives would like to think, that Americans regret reelecting Obama in 2012. That's a slightly different question that CNN and Opinion Research didn't ask.

But the poll -- for lack of a better expression (and sorry, Fix boss) -- is what it is. It is not the game-changer that conservatives want it to be, and it's not entirely pointless and devoid of insight. It's one question on a much larger survey from which limited conclusions can be drawn. And in that way, it's like a whole lot of other poll questions.

Pollsters have tried for years to measure Obama's popularity in various ways, from rating how likable he is to how strong of a leader he is considered to whether people think he understands their problems. They even ask if people want to have a beer with him.

Whether he would lose in a rematch today with the guy who made the "47 percent" comment is another way to test whether and how much Obama's brand has faded since November 2012.

What's most notable, though, is that it's not really all that surprising that he would lose to Romney; after all, his approval rating has been stuck in the low 40s for a while. Indeed, it probably would be more surprising if Obama somehow were still in this lead.

There's also the fact that Romney benefits from not having to, you know, actually campaign or govern -- and the fact that Romney still trails Hillary Clinton by 13 points in a hypothetical 2016 matchup. In other words, it's not like this is a sign of big GOP momentum heading into 2016.

All of this is important context.

The poll is a data point with nominal value that should be taken as such. It's like surveys comparing Congress to head lice or to Nickelback -- or the recent poll that showed Darth Vader is more popular than potential GOP presidential candidates.

Will Americans be forced to choose between Congress and Nickelback? It seems unlikely. Will Darth Vader give Chris Christie a run for his money in Iowa? Probably not.

But those comparisons at least put an interesting spin on what is otherwise a pretty boring set of questions that are asked over and over again and show the same things: that Congress is terrible and that the GOP presidential race is wide open.

This new Obama-Romney poll is perfectly fine to be viewed in this less-than-serious light. But, again, it's not even all that surprising.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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