It's the end of April. Month-ends can be good times to take stock. Today also happens to be three weeks since Rick "pro-petting, anti-Planned Parenthood" Santorum suspended his campaign, leaving Mitt Romney as the finally really now inevitable Republican nominee. So, where are we, three weeks in to the general election campaign? A good place to start to answer this question is to look at the Real Clear Politics polling average:
There are three things that immediately strike me:
1) Over a year of being the most likely challenger, even during times when Obama's popularity rating has been much lower than it is now, Romney has had the lead for a total time of less than three weeks.
2) On the flip side, Obama has never been above 50%.
3) Most minds are already well made up, the undecided share is only about 8.5%.
It is certainly important to keep in mind that, as FiveThirtyEight reminds us, April polls are not a strong indicator of eventual results. Still and all, despite what the constant press cycles might make one think, Obama's trend thus far has been much smoother, and more consistently in the positive, than Bush's in 2004:
In fact, it doesn't look too different from his path in 2008, despite all the controversies he's encountered:
current odds on Obama's re-election are running around 60%.
On the electoral college front too, all indications are that Romney's path, while hardly inconceivable, is definitely steeper than Obama's. Even if you take the relatively pessimistic tack of assuming that Obama only carries the states where his current polling lead is above 5% (compared to a 3% national average), that still gives him 280, 10 more than he needs. You can check out the latest polling for the swing states yourself at RCP by clicking on the states at the map there. The map for the scenario I describe above looks like this (and you can play around with your own at 270towin):
I think it's worth thinking about 2008 for a second though. Obama ended up winning with 52.9% of the vote, which is actually the highest percentage anyone has had since 1988. But consider: the party in power had been there for eight years, its sitting President was intensely unpopular by the time of the election, the worst economic crisis in decades was blowing up, the Republican nominee ran a lackluster and often bumbling campaign, picked a crazy and crazily unqualified person as his running mate, and was running against the hugely well-funded, highly popular Obama who was running an extremely positive and skillful campaign. And with all that going for him, Obama still got less than 53%. It's hard not to believe that this election is going to be very close.
I happen to think both things are true: Obama will most likely win and his margin will seem (and will end up being) thin the whole time. I look forward to analyzing and writing further along the way, and hope you read along!