Two Views on Who's Leading the Race

October 22, 2012

If you’re anxious about the presidential election – you’re right, whichever candidate you support. The race is very close and anyone who is confident about victory for their side is either much smarter than the rest of us, or not paying attention.

Reading through the polls, we’re all looking for signs that the race is breaking one way or the other, or that the fundamentals lean toward one of the candidates. It is easy to paint a picture either way. A hopeful Romney supporter can say that a re-election is always, in the end, a referendum on the incumbent. If the president is only at 47% in the polls (as he is in the latest NBC poll), it doesn't matter that Romney also only has 47% -- a majority of the country has decided on change from the incumbent. They trust Romney more on the economy, and that’s what is most important to them. They see a slow, if not always even, shifting of support towards Governor Romney.

The President’s supporters have their own compelling narrative. The race may be tied, but people like the President more, they view the economy as improving, and when it comes down to it they will move toward the person they trust. They can be encouraged by the fact the same NBC poll showed the President leading the race by 4 points among registered voters, and the Obama campaign has invested tens of millions in an operation to turn out the less likely voters who support him. Finally, and most practically, they point to his lead in the Electoral College – he is ahead in enough states to secure a narrow victory, and even has very slight leads in more of the toss-up states – so even the current national “tie” isn't good enough for a Romney win.

The underlying question is whether you see Romney having continued momentum. Is the shift towards him since the Denver debate ongoing, creeping its way into the minds of more and more undecided voters? Or did Denver allow him to capture the uncertain voters who were likely to support him in the end anyway, and he’s now reached his high-water mark…just short of having enough to win. Is he Ronald Reagan who surged past the incumbent in a once-tight race, or John Kerry, who closed the gap at the end but ultimately failed?


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