The Fundamentals Are Still in Obama's Corner

The latest poll from The Washington Post and ABC News reflects a point I’ve been making for awhile: The presidential race is basically stable. If the election were held today, 47 percent of voters would support Barack Obama, and 47 percent would support Mitt Romney. Moreover, the bulk of these voters are locked in to their choice; 80 percent of Obama voters say that they will “definitely” support the president, while 73 percent of Romney voters say the same for the former Massachusetts governor. Of those surveyed, only 8 percent say that they could change their minds over the course of the campaign—4 percent of Obama’s supporters and 12 percent of Romney’s.

When it comes to Obama’s tenure, a large majority of Americans—63 percent—say that the country is on the wrong track. Forty-nine percent disapprove of how the president is handling his job—compared with 47 percent who approve—and 54 percent disapprove of how Obama is handling the economy. But, when voters are made to choose between the two candidates, Obama comes out favorably. Respondents are split on who would better handle the economy (45 percent Obama, 48 percent Romney) and split on who would better handle taxes (46 percent for both), but favor Obama on health-care policy (48 percent to 43 percent), and favor Romney on budget deficits (43 percent to 51 percent).

Yes, this is only one poll. Even still, and depending on your disposition, there’s evidence for both pessimism and optimism. I don’t lean strongly in either direction, but what I will say is that this poll shows that the fundamentals are still on Obama’s side. Given the state of the economy, and the latest jobs report, that sounds absurd. But each of the fundamentals-driven forecasts gives Obama a good shot at winning re-election. With an almost even approval/disapproval rating and estimated second-quarter GDP growth of 1 to 1.5 percent, Alan Abramowitz’s “Time for a Change” model predicts a small Obama win:

The model devised by The New York Times’s Nate Silver—which includes economic and political variables—gives Obama a 67.3 percent chance of winning with 50.7 percent of the popular vote. Likewise, the model used by The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein gives Obama a 70 to 78 percent chance of winning, as long as his approval remains stable, and average GDP growth doesn’t dip below 1 percent. Douglas Hibb’s “Bread and Peace” model is a bit more pessimistic, predicting 48.2 percent of the two-party vote for Obama, but that doesn’t include the economic numbers of the past six months.

All of this is to say that if you’re an Obama supporter, the evidence for gloom is far weaker than it looks. And on the other side, the headwinds against Romney are stronger than they appear.