For the first time in weeks, President Obama took the lead in the Rasmussen tracking poll survey (by 2). As of this posting, he still leads in the Gallup tracking poll by 1. Most of the non-tracking, “snapshot in time” polls also have the president ahead. Worried Republicans are already starting to whisper about Election 2012 slipping away. It’s as if no one has paid attention to the last 25 years.
This is not to say I am certain Mitt Romney will win; in fact, I don’t know who will win at this point in time – and neither does anyone else. Predicting election results before the conventions is foolhardy. Full Stop.
Of course, it didn’t use to be this way. Based on Gallup’s historical numbers, between 1936 (when they first started polling) and 1984, the leader in the polls before the conventions won all but once (the infamous 1948 foul-up), and of the twelve who won, ten never lost their lead (Kennedy fell behind Nixon in 1960 before recovering after the first televised debate; and Reagan fell behind Carter in 1980 before his own post-debate recovery). So if one were basing their predictions on that 48 year span, the president is in fine shape.
Unfortunately for the president and his backers, things became much more unstable after 1984. Of the six front-runners going into the convention period between 1988 and 2008, only one was still in front coming out of it (Clinton in 1996, and even he saw 7 points shaved off his lead). Two of them (Dukakis in 1988 and Bush the Elder in 1992) fell behind and never recovered; two others (Bush in 2000 and Obama himself) were able to recover in September; one (Kerry 2004) managed a temporary recovery only to fall back again by Election Day.
In other words, being in the lead before the conventions start isn’t what it used to be.
This may surprise many political observers (and even a few activists and consultants) who have perceived conventions to be on the wane. Yet the 2008 conventions broke viewership records, and the GOP gathering actually topped the final American Idol episode from earlier in the year (a first in the AI era). Whatever one may think of conventions, they remain the best opportunity for the major parties to present their case to the American people.
This year the conventions begin and end later than ever before, meaning two vital pieces of information (how America reacts to them) are still unknown. Woe to (s)he who tries to guess the election winner without them.
Cross-posted to Bearing Drift