ELECTIONATE JULY 19, 2012
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After a week of bad news for the Romney campaign, a wave of polls last night showed the horserace essentially unchanged. Fox News showed Obama up by 4 points, compared to 5 points in their last poll. Gallup and Rasmussen may as well have posted the results from any day over the last two months; the NPR poll shows Obama with a 2 point advantage among likely voters—a pretty decent performance considering the traditional divide between registered voters and likely voters and a 1 point decline since the last Democracy Corps survey.
As if a continuing tight race wasn’t clear enough, last night’s poll from CBS News and The New York Times was even an unusually good poll for Romney: It was the first non-Gallup poll of registered voters to show Romney leading since April, when Fox News showed Romney with a three point advantage. Some have tried to dismiss the CBS/NYT poll by noting that their last poll showed Romney leading by three. But that was a panel-back survey conducted in the aftermath of Obama’s decision to endorse gay marriage, and a panel-back probably isn't a solid baseline; the better comparison might be with the full poll from April, which showed a tied race. From a certain perspective, the most surprising part about the CBS/NYT poll is that it’s been so long since Romney led a non-Gallup poll of registered voters. Obama leads by between 2 and 4 points in most registered voter surveys, so Romney might be expected to at least occasionally hold the advantage.
The polls have been unwavering for months, so it shouldn't be a surprise that a few days of bad press haven’t shifted the race. After all, gay marriage, Bain, Mayor Booker, the DREAM Act, the ACA ruling, and terrible jobs reports didn’t move the polls. Romney’s numbers are unlikely to fall so long as he remains near 45 percent, since his supporters are almost exclusively Republican-leaning voters who disapprove of Obama's performance. Their opinions of the president are strong enough to ensure enduring support for Romney through good times and bad. No one should be surprised that undecided voters with deep reservations about Obama’s performance didn’t flock back to the president's corner.
Squinting at the numbers, Obama might have lost about a point over the last month, perhaps as a result of dismal economic numbers. His approval and favorability numbers appear to have suffered as well. That’s a bad sign for an incumbent President who was already beneath fifty percent. But Romney hasn’t made progress toward consolidating the mass of undecided and disaffected voters with reservations about the President’s performance, despite worsening economic conditions. He’s under no obligation to do so until Election Day, but even Kerry was able to soak up plenty of undecided voters and move up to about 48 percent when Bush hit tough times in the summer of 2004. Romney’s consistent 45-46 percent standing—which also happens to be McCain’s final performance—shouldn’t be interpreted as a ceiling, but it’s a sign that the Republican challenger still has a way to go.