Steve Kornaki at Salon sounds a predictable note of caution as a new Bloomberg poll shows Obama 13 points ahead:
It’s very, very doubtful that Barack Obama is really running 13 points ahead of Mitt Romney, as a new Bloomberg poll shows. With so many outlets conducting surveys so frequently these days, the occasional funny result is inevitable. Remember when Barack Obama’s approval rating seemed to crash overnight a few months ago? That was what one CBS/New York Times poll found, but it quickly proved to be an aberration, with other outlets putting his approval score where it’s been for much of his presidency, just under 50 percent.Which is all sensible enough. Polling is a statistical science. If every poll has 95% accuracy then one poll in 20 will be wrong. But Kornaki's conventional wisdom continues in a later paragraph:
That said, the poll is still something of an antidote to the consensus that’s sprung up recently in the political world about the supposedly flailing state of Obama’s reelection efforts. Even if Obama isn’t actually ahead by 13 points, there’s still plenty of evidence that he’s faring better than an incumbent president should under the current economic conditions.The assumption that voters respond to economic conditions is deeply embedded in both the press corps and the Republican party leadership which has spent the past three years cynically blocking any measure that might improve the economy. As Mitch McConnell and other leaders confirm, their 'single most important' goal is to defeat Obama and their actions prove that defeating Obama is more important to them than improving the economy.
But what if the establishment consensus is wrong and what voters really respond to is not the current state of the economy but what they consider the ability of the candidates to improve it? If this is the case we should probably be asking why Obama isn't 20 points up and the GOP looking towards a landslide defeat.
Coincidence does not mean causality. Voters are likely to blame the incumbent when the economy is doing badly and credit them when it is doing well but only if the opposition convinces them that they can do better.
There isn't really a good precedent for the current US situation in US politics: An economy struggling to recover from recession as the opposition party tries to bind itself tighter to the ideology most believe caused the recession in the first place. But the 1983 general election in the UK looks like a pretty good match. The Conservative party was re-elected election despite a catastrophic economic performance.
While the left generally blames the 1983 defeat on the anti-Tory vote being split between Labour and the Liberal Party, the Conservative share of the vote dropped only slightly from the previous election (1.5%). While the result was not an unqualified victory for Thatcher (her party only won 42.4% of the vote after all) it was a decisive defeat for the Labour party and in particular the hard left who seemed to be more interested in fighting abstract ideological battles than actually governing.
The only real difference between the 2012 GOP and the 1983 Labour party is that the Republican ideologues have succeeded in silencing all the moderates or driving them out of the party. There is no Neil Kinnock waiting in the wings.