Two polls this weekend and a third released on Monday show Mitt Romney holding a narrow lead over President Barack Obama nationally.
The most startling poll was the Gallup tracking survey, released on Monday, which showed Romney with a two-point lead, 47-45, among registered voters. Registered voters tend to be more liberal than likely voters, so a small lead in this poll could be very good news for the Romney camp.
Given the Gallup results, a Rasmussen poll of likely voters released over the weekend that showed Romney ahead 47-44 now appears to be quite believable.
This followed another correlating data point, a Fox News poll released late last week that showed Romney again with a two-point lead. The Fox poll gave an explanation for the results as the president's job approval numbers dropped dramatically from the previous month. The March poll showed voters disappoving of his performance 47-45 percent, whereas the previous month they approved 51-42 percent.
Another insight from the Fox polls lay in perceptions of the two men. Respondents were slightly more likely to trust Obama and much more likely to think Obama was smarter and more optimistic. Romney won decisively on the "experience to fix the economy" question, however, suggesting that voters are increasingly focused on the stagnant economy and skyrocketing gas prices.
Close observers expect a seesaw of changing leads over the summer and do not invest too heavily in them until after Labor Day. At the Washington Post, Dan Balz lays out that timeline, noting that typically the candidate leading in the polls at the end of August goes on to win the election.
"Among the exceptions: Ronald Reagan trailed Jimmy Carter in a mid-September 1980 Gallup Poll and went on to win an electoral landslide. Al Gore led George W. Bush narrowly in an early September 2000 Gallup survey. He won the popular vote but not the presidency. But in virtually every other case dating to 1952, the leader in the Gallup Poll around Labor Day went on to win."
The 2004 election offers some support for a Labor Day deadline, as the Rasmussen tracking polls showed frequent lead changes throughout the summer but then a small Bush lead gelled and fixed in late August.
The 2008 election, oddly enough, was very nearly an exception, despite it eventually being a landslide. It is easy to forget that as late as mid-September, John McCain and Obama were in a dead heat in both Rasmussen and Gallup polls. The race did not really gel until the financial collapse hit and McCain responded in an intemperate manner to it. Also, Sarah Palin started to became a liability among centrist swing voters.
In sum, recent history suggests a great deal of fluidity through the summer, with the race narrowing to a very small number of swing states that will not include Connecticut.
Eric Schulzke writes on national politics for the Deseret News. He can be contacted at [email protected].