Stuck in the poll numbers

16 Jul

One odd thing about this year’s presidential election is the stubborn consistency of the polls.

Ponder this: since early May the president’s numbers have shifted only two points.

For Mitt Romney, a minor 1.3 points.

When looking at only registered voters, it’s about the same although slightly better for President Obama.

Twenty of twenty-five polls have the president between 44 and 49 percent, while Romney has been between 42 and 46 percent.

Overall, the standard deviation for each set is around two points.

All the negative TV ads, the pounding on one side from the other, the economy, lousy job reports, have done just about nothing to move the numbers.

Here’s the reason – elections are mostly a referendum on the incumbent.

Why else do you think we keep putting the same people back in office here in Hawaii?

It takes something very powerful for the people to dump an unpopular incumbent over a challenger of any stripe.

As grandpa used to say – the devil you know is better than the one you don’t.

Spending a lot of money won’t do it.

All the studies have shown spending a lot of money on a campaign doesn’t necessarily lead to victory.

In this presidential campaign, both candidates are incredibly well-funded, to the point where they can saturate most major markets and still have money left over.

For Obama, his spending just isn’t likely to do that much to change the race, unless he hits upon an argument that disqualifies Romney.

And all the yelling with the Bain argument simply haven’t fared that well at the ballot box.

Maybe there’s more to come, and maybe they’re softening Romney up for the fall.

But for now, it really isn’t all that surprising that the president has been unable to move the dial.

His attacks on Romney simply aren’t enough to disqualify the former Massachusetts governor at this point, or to compensate for his own relative unpopularity, especially with working class white voters.

At the same time, Republicans are scratching their collective head, wondering why Romney can’t put this away, given the weak economy.

It is even inducing a bit of panic among some of them.

But the dirty little secret of this campaign is that the economy is not terrible.

It isn’t good, to be sure – but very little has actually changed in the past few months.

The economy improved in the first quarter, then cratered in the second, creating something of a wash.

The net effect is an economy that is very different from that of 1980 or 2008.

Those were years when things were collapsing on Election Day, and the party in power lost badly.

Right now, this economy is looking like that from 1992 or 1960.

In those years, the incumbent party lost power, but they were relatively close elections, especially at this juncture.

One can envision scenarios where either could have played out differently.

But right now the economy isn’t so bad that it would cause people to give up utterly on Obama.

It is improving, more slowly than he — or the country — would like.

That could change, but if it doesn’t, Romney is not going to run away with this election.

What we have is a distrusted challenger against a somewhat weak incumbent.

There will be no blowout win for either side.

Any great movement probably won’t come until the final week – if at all.

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