In the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, the race for president is tighter than a tick, with Mitt Romney leading President Obama by a single point, well within the poll’s four-point margin or error.
Moreover, the partisans on both sides are revved up, with 84 percent of Obama voters certain of their ballot in November, versus 82 percent of Romney supporters. At this point in 2008, John McCain had the firm support of only 72 percent of his cohort.
Based on the broad results of the poll, its hard not to believe that we’re in for hand-to-hand fight all the way to November, where gains will be measured in fractions of percentages in the battleground states.
The cross-tabs for the Post poll – the actual questions asked to respondents – tell a different story that should be very alarming for Team Obama.
By a margin of whopping 84-15 percent, respondents judged the nation’s economy to be in bad shape. Further, 67 percent of respondents said that the country was on the wrong track. With regard to President Obama’s performance, by a margin of 54-44 percent, respondents disapproved of POTUS’s handling of the economy.
The divide becomes starker when Obama and Romney are pitted against each other on specific issues.
Respondents thought that Romney would be better on the economy by 50-43 percent, on the budget deficit by 51-38 percent and on taxes 48-43 percent.
All of this should be hair-raising to Team Obama given the fact that 71 percent of respondents said that the President’s handling of the economy would be the most important factor in their vote. There is almost nothing for the Obama campaign to work with here, where their opponent has critical advantages.
In addition, on other governing issues, Romney has managed to fight Obama to a draw. The President and former Massachusetts governor were in the margin of error on who would do a better job on small business and education. On health care, the President’s singular accomplishment, Obama led Romney by only two points. More shocking given all the media generated controversy over the Ryan budget plan, Romney was picked as the better candidate to handle Medicare/government insurance by 45-42 percent.
So as the Republican convention begins in earnest, what do we make of this data?
First, that President Obama is in much deeper political trouble than the overall polls indicate. Nearly three quarters of voters will cast their vote on the President’s handling of the economy. On the individual sub-issues, not only is President Obama rated poorly, but in head to head contests, Romney bests him.
Second, the contest is very close now because the American people have only finished half their work. They have pronounced judgement on Obama, and after a term in office, they do not like what they see. However, they have yet to decide if Mitt Romney is a viable alternative.
Neither candidate can break out until the American people make that verdict.
A good GOP convention could seal it. Or continued, massive mudslinging could keep the Romney question open until the final days of the campaign.
In either case, the only way Obama wins is by disqualifying Romney. As a result, get ready for a measure of ugliness rarely seen in modern American history.