by Bob Grundfest
Two months to go before the presidential election and the latest polling…hasn’t changed all that much from 2, 3 or 6 months ago. President Obama holds a small but consistent lead in the national polls and continues to lead in enough states to give him the electoral majority he needs to be reelected in November. Are there rough seas ahead for him? You bet, and Mitt Romney might have discovered a winning edge with his “Are you better off now?” campaign line. We’ll be able to glean more from the Democratic convention bounce, should there be one, and the possible effects of Friday’s jobs numbers, but we’ll need to wait until Monday to see if the race has truly turned one way or the other.
For Mitt, there was no discernible bounce from the GOP convention, but my sense is that many Americans who are undecided might be waiting until the debates to make up their minds. Conventions don’t have the same pull as they did in the past, and both parties have bungled their messages with inconvenient side issues (Clint Eastwood, God). It makes me wonder who’s actually in charge.
So now, the numbers.
The latest RealClearPolitics average of the race shows a tie, as some of the late summer polls with Obama up +7 and +9 dropped off the chart, and replaced with the latest trends which show both candidates alternating small leads. The Gallup 7-day average has Obama +1, while Rasmussen’s 3 day poll has Romney at +3. Neither of these tracking polls had Mitt at more than +4 after the Republican convention, so whatever bounce he got was small and short-lived.
As for the battleground states, Romney leads in North Carolina and Missouri, but is behind in every other contested state on the RCP map. though Ohio, Virginia, Colorado and Nevada still qualify as toss-ups. Other pollsters are a bit more liberal with their results, with the Vote-Master giving Obama a 332-206 edge, Election Projection showing Obama at 285-253, and Nate Silver at the New York Times with Obama up 311-227. With news today that conservative groups have pulled their ads from Michigan, another upper Midwestern state remains safe for the president. Romney is still close in Wisconsin, and positive polling there would be great news for his campaign.
The Congressional ballot moved from Republicans +3 last month to a tie today, and the Democrats had a slight edge for a few weeks, which is probably statistical noise, so we’ll need to see more individual races to spot a trend. Things seem to have calmed down in the Missouri Senate race after Todd Akin’s unfortunate comments. He’s back to a statistical tie with Claire McCaskill, but clearly not out of the woods yet.
What seems to be clear is that Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate did not, in fact, provide him with a clear bump in the polls. It’s narrowed the gap in some polls, but it wasn’t a game-changing decision. Likewise, there isn’t much that President Obama can do in his convention speech to fundamentally change people’s perceptions of him. All he can hope for is that voters give him another chance to make the economy better given that he inherited a terrific mess in 2009. If there’s no break either way between now and the end of September, then the debates will probably decide the election, absent a surprise or large unforeseen event between now and then.
The last wildcard is the effect of PAC spending on national, state and local races. The Republicans are raising far more money than Democrats, but I’m wondering about the effects of too much advertising in the contested states. And does it really matter if the GOP runs 10 ads to every 6 the Democrats run? I guess we’ll see.
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