The latest tracking polls from Gallup and Rasmussen show Governor Mitt Romney, respectively, one and four points up over President Barack Obama. This is news that is almost too good to be true. Is this a trick or what?
"All of us on the Republican side are pleased where we are in the presidential election," said GOP stalwart and former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour as reported by Paul Bedard in the Washington Examiner.
Citing Ronald Reagan's 15 point deficit in his 1980 race against President Jimmy Carter, Governor Barbour mused: "A lot of us anticipated that while Romney wouldn't be behind 15 points, would start off behind."
Many observers believe all that matters, at the margin so to speak, is the spread in battleground states such as Ohio where the RealClearPolitics average of polls to date has Obama up over Romney by 1.8 percent and 3 points in purple Virginia. These numbers are generally better for the President although not out of reach of Governor Romney at this early stage in the campaign.
Jonathan Bernstein, a political scientist and blogger at the Washington Post, challenges the myth that swing-state polls are the key to predicting the winner.
"In fact, the opposite is true, especially this far from November," opines Bernstein. "Generally, elections are determined by a 'uniform swing.' That is, if the Republican candidate does a little better overall, then he's going to do a little better in close states such as Ohio and Nevada, too."
"So the best way to follow the election is to read the national polling averages," claims Bernstein. "National polls have a key advantage: There are a lot more of them, so we're less likely to be fooled by the occasional outlier."
Moreover, Dr. Bernstein reads the literature to say that "impressions of the national economy are what really moves votes." He cites a recent study which concluded that "voters believe the president has little effect on their local economy, and they do not form their evaluation of the national economy based on surrounding [i.e., local] conditions.… People form their opinions of the national economy based on non-local factors, such as the national media."
Unfortunately for the country, but happily for Governor Romney, not even the mainstream media can sugarcoat the current economic situation, which is dire.
Still, at the end of the day, both the Obama and Romney dollars will focus every bit of their discretionary time and resources on the dozen or so battleground states while trying to forge messages that resonate nationally. The local turnout will still be crucial even if the messaging is national.
At this stage, the overall average of polls, as calculated by RealClearPolitics, gives the President a slight edge of +0.6 percent over the Governor, factoring in the latest Gallup and Rasmussen numbers. This is well within the margin of error.
Governor Scott Walker's resounding victory in Wisconsin and the steady drizzle of miserable economic news, both domestic and international, no doubt contributes to Governor Romney's recent bump in the polls. So complacency is to be avoided like the plague.
Yet, the Obama camp must be hearing footsteps over its shoulder. The economic picture is not going to improve anytime soon. Governor Romney is coming into his own on fundraising for the general election campaign and the Republican base is highly motivated.
Even the relentless negative attacks on the Governor for being successful, rich, a businessman, and being married to an articulate woman who can ride horses while battling MS (shame on MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell) seem to be falling flat with even the Democratic mayor of Newark going AWOL and off message from his talking points.
The game is definitely afoot. The opposing candidates are in equipoise on money, organization and dedicated constituencies massing on both sides of the economic, social, and cultural divide that is modern America. It is a most consequential election in terms of deciding the character of the nation for decades to come.