Teflon Don?

Responding to arguments that Mitt Romney is stronger than he looks, The New Republic’s Nate Cohn notes the degree to which Romney’s resiliency—in the face of attacks and gaffes—is a natural consequence of polarization in the electorate. In other words, it doesn’t actually tell us anything about the direction of the election:

If Romney was above 50 percent and withstood a month of bad press, that would be a real sign of resilience. But Romney’s not at 50 percent; he’s at 45 percent. And that essentially means that Romney holds the reliably Republican vote, and not very much more. The polls tell us that nearly all of these voters disapprove of Obama’s performance and that most are Republicans or Republican-leaning independents. History suggests that they have voted for Republicans in recent elections—for instance, in 2008, McCain won 45.9 percent of the vote in a hostile political climate. So 45 percent is a logical floor for Romney, given the intensity of Republican opposition to Obama. For that same reason, analysts shouldn’t be too impressed with Romney’s gains until he consistently scores above 45 or 46 percent, which would be a sign of persuading undecided voters rather than consolidating natural supporters.

Romney is close to that point, but not there yet—he might break the threshold after the Republican convention, but that’s a guess, not a prediction. Romney has consistently low ratings across every issue but the economy, and there’s no guarantee that voters will move in his direction come the fall. To put this another way, the race for the White House is still very far from over.