“Obama Expands National Lead Over Romney To 10 Points In Pew Poll,” said one headline last week.
But wait. “Economic Forecasting Model Predicts Obama Will Lose In Near-Landslide,” said another.
Or take these two headlines on Friday, shortly after the unemployment rate rose to 8.3 percent: “AP: Stronger job creation could help Obama’s re-election hopes”; and “Reuters: Labor market slowed sharply after strong gains in winter, spelling trouble for Obama.”
We are, of course, in the “silly season.” This time, Congress has gone home, the Republican presidential candidate is off on an international trip, and the president is on the golf course.
And in this season, everyone says whatever they want — it doesn’t matter, no one will know if it’s true or not, and whatever is said will be ancient history by tomorrow morning.
Still, it’s worth taking a look at what’s bouncing around out there. First, that poll. The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press (that’s their name, really) released a survey showing President Obama holding a “sizable lead” — 10 points — over Mitt Romney.
But there was something interesting about the poll sampling method: Pew’s survey included 459 Republicans, 813 Democrats and 599 independents. That’s a 19 percent edge for Democrats, even though polls on voter identification give Republicans a small lead. Oddly, two polls about the same time were completely different: Rasmussen had Mr. Romney up by 2 percentage points, and Gallup had the Republican down by just 2 points.
Almost unnoticed was another poll by Gallup. The survey found Mr. Obama has an approval rating above 50 percent in just 13 states and was below 50 percent in 36 states. Why does that matter?
“The 50% approval mark is significant because post-World War II incumbent presidents who have been above 50% job approval on Election Day were easily re-elected,” Gallup wrote. “Presidents with approval ratings below 50% have more uncertain re-election prospects. Historically, two presidents below 50% in their final approval rating before the election — George W. Bush and Harry Truman — won, and three, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush, lost.”
Which brings up that other headline: “Economic Forecasting Model Predicts Obama Will Lose In Near-Landslide.”
After complex calculations that included “the protocol of the PS Election Forecast Symposium” and “Obama’s Expected Two-Party Vote Share At Hypothetical Real-Income Growth Rates 2012:Q3-2012:Q4,” the author, James Pethokoukis of American Enterprise Institute — citing research by political scientist Douglas. A. Hibbs — concludes “Romney wins 52.5% to Obama’s 47.5%.”
Worse, the “right track/wrong track” number skews hard against re-election. The RealClearPolitics average shows 32.7 percent say right track, 60.7 percent say wrong track. Gallup notes that an incumbent party generally needs to be above 35 percent on right track to win.
Still, the mainstream media, especially the networks, are doing all they can to re-elect their favorite son — like the Associated Press’ headline about good news in a jobs report that showed the unemployment rate rising. The watchdog group Media Research Center found that during Mr. Romney’s trip to London, Israel and Poland, 18 network stories, or 86 percent emphasized the candidate’s diplomatic blunders.
It’s hard to figure out who’s right and who’s wrong in all the reporting during this “silly season,” but Team Obama is clearly rattled. Although Mr. Obama has spent some time in Virginia, sources say the internal polls in the state show him dropping fast. One source even says that Mr. Obama may soon be forced to move on to focus on other states that are growing increasingly tight — like North Carolina.
More telling is the president’s schedule: He plans to spend two days this week in Colorado — a state he won by 9 percentage points in 2008. So, just watch the president, where he goes and how often to figure out how he’s doing.
And of course, always check a survey’s methodology — usually, it didn’t find anything like what the author says it did.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.