’Tis the season for the ranks of the untutored, very much including myself, to read the entrails of presidential polls. Here’s what the last four days look like to me. On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an unexpected drop in the unemployment rate. By Saturday, the Democrat-friendly firm Public Policy Polling, reported the following: “Saturday interviews we’ve done for polls across the country look a lot more like our pre-debate than Friday numbers.” By Monday morning, Republican-friendly pollster Scott Rasmussen indicated that Mitt Romney had lost the two-point lead over President Obama he held briefly after Wednesday’s debate. And yesterday, Gallup’s seven-day track showed Obama with a five-point lead.
With all due allowance to statistical noise and the volatile nature of daily news cycles, it appears to me that some combination of a fading Romney bounce and (relatively) positive economic news has put Obama back in the position he enjoyed before his debacle of a debate performance: holding a slight but persistent lead.
A Pew poll of likely voters shows Romney opening up a four-point lead over the president. That’s troubling for the incumbent, but there are a couple reasons to believe it’s an outlier. It shows Romney and Obama tied among women voters — a highly unlikely scenario. And its sample is probably too heavily tiled toward Republicans, suggesting a surge in GOP intensity rather than a bona fide shift away from Obama.
The race looks a lot like it did just before the release of Romney’s “47 Percent” video. It may seem like a distant memory now, but, at that point, Obama’s convention bounce had vanished, and Romney was behind but well within striking distance of the president. If I had to bet, I’d say that’s where we are again.
Of course, Romney and Obama must debate twice more. And the silver lining for the latter is that it’s almost impossible to imagine him performing as poorly as he did last week.