Some Saturday electoral musings

These random thoughts are brought to you by Charlie Cook - long time Democratic pollster. Cook draws some interesting conclusions based on the most recent NBC/WSJ poll, comparing it to past polls, and believes we are headed for a barnburner of an election in November at every level:

Not much in the just-released NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conflicts with the story line that we're going to see a lot of close races this fall. Democratic pollster Peter Hart and Republican poll-taker Bill McInturff found that 48 percent of the 1,000 American adults interviewed (including a subsample of cell-phone users) approve of the job that President Obama has done. This percentage is 2 points short of the 50 percent approval rating that would signal he is a favorite for reelection. A rating below 46 percent suggests that a president is toast. Obama is right in the middle--in the 47 percent to 49 percent zone--suggesting an equal chance of winning or losing.

One source of good news for Democrats is that Obama draws a 51 percent approval rating on foreign policy; the bad news is that voters don't seem likely to vote on foreign-policy matters this year. Conversely, the president got his worst approval rating on the economy: Just 43 percent approve of his handling of economic matters while 52 percent disapprove. Unfortunately for Democrats, the economy is the issue that does seem to be of paramount importance to voters.


Only 33 percent of Americans who responded to the survey felt that the country is headed in the right direction-unchanged from the March and April surveys. Fifty-eight percent thought the country was off on the wrong track-the same as March and a point lower than April. These numbers are pretty consistent with the downbeat results that this question has elicited for the past four years.

The soberness of the American spirit is evident when Hart and McInturff asked, "All in all, thinking about where the United States is today, do you feel we are experiencing the kind of tough times that the country faces from time to time, or is this the start of longer-term decline where the U.S. is no longer the leading country in the world?" Forty five percent picked the temporarily-experiencing-a-tough-time response; 48 percent endorsed the start of a long-term decline.

Last things first; the "decline" number is highly misleading. If there were a decent leader in the White House who could inspire confidence and point a path to the future, it would be no contest. This is not the end of history. Americans have traditionally - regardless of party - responded positively to an optimistic, forward looking president.A similar turnaround could be expected in the right track/wrong track number if there were an Oval Office occupant who didn't trash talk his predecessor and mapped out a way forward that makes sense.

And this is why Obama's approval numbers will probably not improve that much between now and November, no matter how the economy performs. Voters no longer draw inspiration from the president. They are hungry for a different kind of leader who doesn't need to use fear or resentment to get people to follow.

Obama's plan is to absolutely maximize the turnout of those who respond to the fear/resentment themes of his campaign. He can win doing that - make no mistake. By the time election day rolls around, hundreds of offices in just a few states will have the names of millions of Obama supporters. They will be organized down to the precinct level where volunteers will work to get every possible Obama voter to the polls. The massive get out the vote infrastructure of the AFL-CIO and other unions will be employed to the max. In a race that will probably see 4 or 5 states decided by just a few thousand votes, this kind of organization will spell the difference between victory and defeat.

Romney is getting a late start, necessitated by the competitive GOP primary. But it appears that the edge in fundraising will be far less than the 5-1 margin enjoyed by Obama against McCain. So in the end, it will come down to who has the better organization - as it usually does.

We will see if Romney can put his knowledge and skills to good use in this regard.