My thanks to Miranda and Professor Schaff for filling in while I was abroad. I haven't had time yet to look at the comments on the recent posts or reply to those on my posts before I left. I will respond to Professor Schaff's July 4th election post. Jon thinks that Obama is going to win. He relies largely on Nate Silver's projections and the Intrade odds, and he thinks that Obama has an easier route to 270 electoral votes.
Nate Silver is a forecaster. He tries to assemble a package of data sources that has been reliable in the past. That's how a weatherman tries to tell you whether it will rain tomorrow. Given these numbers, 2 out of 3 times, it rains. Jay Cost is an analyst. He tries to map the general forces that will determine the outcome. That's how a weatherman tries to predict the weather over the next week. Given these fronts, etc., this is what seems to be shaping up.
I find Cost's approach more interesting and more plausible. Cost ranks a number of forces from strongest to weakest in this order: party identification, right track/wrong track, evaluation of incumbent, and net campaign effects. Cost notes that a President usually gets a share of the vote equal to his approval rating.
After the back-to-back debacles of 1980 and 1984, the Democratic party essentially rebuilt its core coalition. Since 1988 the party has not fallen below 46 percent of the two party vote, either in the presidential contest or the national House race. That looks to be the core Democratic base of support in this country.
If we go by his job approval, this is roughly all President Obama is holding at the moment. He pulls in a little bit more in most polls most of the time, but not very much.
I note that the President's approval rating has been consistently lower than 50% for some time. His approval rating has been over 50% in only two polls since May. It has been at 50% only in two polls out of the most recent ten.
Jon compares this election with 2004.
Romney, like John Kerry, is essentially an acceptable but uninspiring figure, not the kind of guy who convinces a nation to oust an incumbent president. And like 2004, an incumbent president with some very noticeable weaknesses will win, and win ugly.
I note, however, that this is precisely the point at which George W. Bush's approval rating climbed above 50% in the Gallup polls in 2004. It remained there for most of the remainder of the election cycle. Bush won narrowly, but convincingly. Gallup has given Obama a 50% approval rating only very briefly in 2011, when bin Laden was killed. Other than that, he has been below 50% for most of the last two years. This looks to have solidified. Unless the President can move those numbers, the odds are against him.
As for the Electoral College numbers, I am with Charlie Cook. They matter only in a very close election and then only in the last days. If either candidate wins the national vote by more than a hair, that candidate will win enough of the battleground states to give him the victory. Right now Obama has the lead in national polls by a few points. Most of these are polling registered voters or all voters. The few that poll likely voters show a tie. Again, however, except for the Pew poll, no national poll puts Obama at let alone over 50%.
Obama is running a very negative campaign. What else can he do? With the President's numbers, however, it is not enough to tear Romney down. He has to convince the voters that Romney is unacceptable. He doesn't seem to be accomplishing that yet and he may be using all the ammunition he has rather early in the game.
At some point, Obama is going to have to pull his numbers up over the halfway mark. I think we know by now that the President is not effective at making a case for himself and his policies. This isn't going to change. Not only is his approval rating lower than Bush's 2004 numbers at comparable points, but the wrong track numbers are considerably worse. He is also running against much worse economic numbers. The recent job growth numbers are terrible.
Of course, Romney has to pull his numbers up as well. That is usually easier for a challenger than for an incumbent, whom the voters know all too well by this point. Where is Obama going to get the four or five points he needs? Right now I can't see it. If Obama can't get that, uninspiring Romney wins by default.