All is not as it appears in presidential race

Jay Cost writing at the Weekly Standard points out some encouraging facts about where President Obama stands historically at this point in the election.

First, Obama is weaker than previous incumbents who went on to victory. When we are looking through history, the only poll we can really utilize is Gallup if we want an apples-to-apples comparison. For better or worse, Gallup is the only polling organization consistently doing polling of registered voters since 1952. Even media outlets that have been polling a long time have changed pollsters over the years, so Gallup is the only game in town when we are investigating history.

Through 2004 every incumbent who was above 50 percent at this point won, and every incumbent who was under 50 percent at this point lost. As of today, Obama is under 50 percent.


The second point to keep in mind is that, yes, we are late in the season, but so was the Democratic National Convention. This president still appears to be enjoying a post-convention bounce. If you look at many of the polls in most of the RCP averages - both national and state - their survey dates began within one week of Obama's speech. If we figure that a bounce period lasts for two weeks, then no polls have been conducted outside the bounce period.


Third, Obama and Romney have basically been trading leads in the Gallup poll since May. The only postwar incumbent who did not pull away early in the registered voter poll and still won was George W. Bush, whose victory also happens to have been the narrowest margin for an incumbent since 1916. (Truman trailed in polls of national adults through the summer and fall of 1948.)

The bottom line: Historically speaking, this president is in weaker shape than any postwar incumbent who went on to victory, with the possible exception of Harry Truman; he is enjoying a convention bounce later in the cycle than any incumbent in the postwar era; and if he manages to win, it will probably be via a true squeaker, with plenty of twists and turns to come.

With 3 debates still to come and the real possibility of a foriegn crisis throwing conventional wisdom about this race out the window, prematurely celebrating Democrats and pundits might want to keep their powder dry lest they wind up with egg on their face on election day.