May 15, 2012, 8:55 AM
A 30,000-Foot View on the Presidential Race
By NATE SILVER
We are beginning to see more national surveys now, including this week’s New York Times/CBS News poll, which show Mitt Romney with a slight lead over President Obama in the general election matchup. To be sure, there are also a number of polls that put Mr. Obama slightly ahead. But his lead does seem to have narrowed — from about three or four points in an average of national polls a month or two ago to more like a point or so in surveys today.
Has something fundamental changed in the race?
Probably not. Instead, I suspect we are seeing some reversion to the mean. It could be that Mr. Obama’s larger lead from before was somewhat ephemeral, although there are a couple of factors that may be working in Mr. Romney’s favor at the margin.
Although we are getting to the point where these national polls are at least worth a passing glance, it is still also worth paying attention to Mr. Obama’s approval rating. These have a history of predicting electoral outcomes at least as closely as head-to-head polls in the early stages of the race, especially for incumbent presidents.
Mr. Obama’s approval ratings have not moved all that much. For the last month or two, they have been essentially even. Right now, in the RealClearPolitics average, 48.3 percent of Americans approve of the job that Mr. Obama is doing, and 48.6 percent disapprove.
A president can get re-elected with numbers like those. Obviously, he can also lose. But the fact that Mr. Obama’s approval ratings are close to even means that it should not be surprising that the numbers in his matchup against Mr. Romney are getting closer to even, too.