Romney vs. Obama: Why isn't someone pulling ahead?

Despite the gaffes, what's striking about the presidential race heading into the Republican National Convention is its stability. Obama is holding ground, despite the lackluster economy.

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    President Obama speaks during a campaign stop in North Las Vegas, Nev., on Aug. 22. Mr. Obama needs to remind voters why they loved him in 2008. Mitt Romney needs for voters to get to know and like him better. At upcoming party conventions, both will look to find a way to fire up core backers without alienating undecided voters.
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Attention voters: We’re taking a break from breathless coverage of every development of the 2012 campaign to alert you to the fact that if one word described the race so far, it would not be “roller-coaster." It would be “stable."

Yes, we nattering nabobs in the media like to pretend otherwise. In the press, every compelling story becomes a potential game-changer, and there’s a compelling story almost every day.

Remember “Etch-A-Sketch?” We didn’t think so, so we’ll remind you: An aide suggested that Mitt Romney might reset his positions for the general campaign. It seemed important at the time. Since then it’s been a regular Gaffe-a-palooza, from President Obama’s maladroit “the private sector is doing fine” comment to the current uproar over GOP Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin’s statements on abortion.

But the polls aren’t whipsawing in response. In fact, they’re just bouncing around within a narrow range, taken as a whole. On June 1, Mr. Obama led Mr. Romney by 46.8 to 44.3 percent in the RealClearPolitics rolling average of major polls. As of Aug. 23, that measure was 46.3 to 45.3 percent.

The Huffington Post Election Dashboard shows a similar drift over approximately the same period. Obama led 46.5 percent to Romney’s 44.2 percent on May 31 in this major poll average. Currently, it’s Obama 46.0 percent to Romney’s 45.1 percent.

Romney gained a bit in both those polls, but the gain is within their statistical margin of error. For extra credit, we’ll kick in The New York Times FiveThirtyEight polling blog prediction of the popular vote, which over the corresponding almost-three-month period has jumped from Obama 50.6 percent, Romney 48.3 percent to ... Obama 50.6 percent, Romney 48.3 percent.

“Not much has changed in the last two months,” writes George Washington University political scientist John Sides on the Monkey Cage political blog. “In fact, explaining the lack of change – namely the stability in the polls – is probably the most important task here on the eve of party conventions, which should finally produce at least some change.”

Mr. Sides has studied the statistical fundamentals of the 2012 campaign in depth for his new e-book on the election, “The Gamble.” (You can read a chapter for free here.) In the book, he concludes that polls show that Obama has persistently performed well in voter measures of likeability. In addition, he’s benefited from the rise of partisan identification – among Democrats, he’s the most-liked president since John Kennedy.

These are advantages with which Obama entered the campaign. Since then, poor job numbers have weighed on his reelection chances. But other economic measures, including the stock market, haven’t been so bad.

“The unemployment rate is pretty unusual for an incumbent, but other aspects of the economy are just positive enough to give him the edge,” said Sides on a recent MSNBC appearance.

Meanwhile, veteran political prognosticator Charlie Cook writes in National Journal that given current economic conditions it is shouldn’t be close. Why isn’t Obama losing? That’s the mystery of the polls so far, according to Mr. Cook.

Perhaps voters just can’t relate to Romney, he writes. Cook also says the Romney campaign should have begun running biographical spots much earlier, to try to establish a bond between the candidate and American voters. And Romney could have done more to reach out to Hispanic voters.

Still, incumbents just don’t get reelected with unemployment over 8 percent and poor GDP numbers, according to Cook.

“Romney may still win this election. It’s awfully close,” he writes.

OK, enough substance. Back to GaffeWorld! Has Joe Biden said anything interesting today?


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