Conservatives may have this objection or that when they see a poll with Obama in the lead: They oversampled Democrats! They’re not screening for likely voters! Yet the general picture they are giving of the race seems accurate enough: The president got a bounce from his convention, and a tight race with a slight lead for him has become a tight race with a slightly bigger lead.
The Obama campaign has long been invested in the idea that his reelection is inevitable, and has spun much of a political press happy to agree. (By the way, shouldn’t Democratic press aides be paid at a discount?) So far this effort has not produced any panic or demoralization among conservatives, and we don’t think it will. This magazine believes in preemption, though, so let’s make the case for a measured confidence.
President Obama is running for reelection with an unemployment rate that has not carried an incumbent to victory since the Great Depression. His major policy initiatives — the stimulus bill, the health-care legislation — are so unpopular that he barely mentioned them in his own convention address. The public sees him as well to its left. The opposition has achieved rough financial parity. In key swing states, the president remains below 50 percent — sometimes well below. He has no plan to make his second term a happier one for the country than the first. And Rasmussen shows a bigger national than swing-state bounce for the president; if this is any indication, his bounce is disproportionately happening outside swing states: He has probably made blue states bluer.
The map is harder for the Republicans than the Democrats — but it also presents opportunities. The Democrats start with more large states. They won so big last time that Romney will have to take back a lot of ground to succeed. Romney is likely to regain the lead soon in North Carolina. Florida now seems to tilt at least slightly Republican: That is, in a competitive national election, all else equal, it will go GOP. Wisconsin, Iowa, Colorado, and New Hampshire all seem to be in play. There are several paths to 270.
The Democrats, it seems to us, made better use of their convention than the Republicans made of theirs. The Republican message, especially in the most-watched addresses, seemed less coordinated, deliberate, and focused. Republicans spent too much time explaining what a nice guy Romney is and how happy he is about female empowerment, and not enough time explaining how he would improve the national condition.
Both party coalitions are strong. In the absence of shocks, presidential races will be tight. The Democratic base vote in presidential elections has been growing for nearly three decades. Obama has the benefit of incumbency — and it is a benefit, even in trying (but non-disastrous) times — and of a public that still has unhappy memories of the Bush administration.
Romney is nonetheless in the hunt, and he may even enjoy the great advantage, in politics as in life, of being underestimated.