Will the 2012 election be close?
The political scientists — or at least their models — think so. And that makes its outcome hard to predict:
Hibbs' has the election teetering on the edge with Obama winning 50.05%-49.95% in the two-major-party vote; Fair's has Obama taking 52.5% of the two-major-party vote (down from 55.9% in his November prediction); while, Abramowitz's sees Obama winning between 53-54% of the two-major-party vote.
All three estimates for Obama's vote share are pretty much within each model's (at least +/- 3.5%) margin of error, so the spread between them is more than understandable. Therein lies part of the problem, however. These models (and my own) are not built for close elections.
As always, what these models are really telling us is that the election is likely to turn on the state of the economy. That means a good campaign strategy for the Democrats is to govern in a way that maximizes economic performance between now and the election. It also implies that a good campaign strategy for the Republicans would be to govern in a way that hurts economic performance between now and the elections. I tend to believe that few politicians are cynical enough to actually try a strategy like that, but if what happens is that the Obama administration pushes policies that are good for the economy and the House Republicans block everything the Obama administration attempts because they sincerely oppose the Obama administration’s agenda, then unless the Obama administration is making some serious errors in their assessment of the economy and the policies that would help it, the end result will be much the same.