GOP angst about the presidential election stems not just from turmoil in the Romney campaign but from unrealistic expectations about the ease of defeating President Obama. Many Republicans think that Romney ought to be way ahead at this point. Their assumption is flawed. A majority of forecasting models actually give a slight edge to the president, for reasons having little to do with the quality of the Romney campaign. Incumbent presidents can use their powers and perks to great advantage. If a party has held the White House for only one term, the “don’t change horses” mentality has some sway. A recent recession can overwhelm incumbency advantages, as it did in 1980. But the economy has been growing, if sluggishly, for three years. And although the unemployment rate is still too high, it is better than it was in late 2009. Life is divided up into the horrible and the miserable, said Woody Allen in Annie Hall, so be glad that you’re miserable. A significant share of the electorate seems to agree.
For Mitt Romney, there is bad news and semi-good news. The bad news is that he’s behind and has been making mistakes. The semi-good news is that he’s not doing worse than the fundamentals predict and that the president’s lead is modest. If Romney runs a stronger campaign in the weeks ahead, and if the president makes some mistakes of his own, then the contest will be a tossup.