For some reason, the ABC News/Washington Post poll really gets the tongues wagging. I'm not exactly sure why; as polls go, it is one of my least favorite, in part because it often has a ridiculous tilt toward the Democrats. I suppose because it is the Post poll, and that's the newspaper of record in the government town.
I would not put any more stock into this poll than any other, and indeed I think Rasmussen and Gallup offer a more accurate gauge of the electorate on a daily basis. But as people will surely be talking about it, let's break it down.
The first thing to note about the poll is the massive Democratic oversample. Democrats outnumber Republicans, 32 to 22, according to the poll. Now, this may in fact be where the adult population is at the moment but it has been generations since we have seen such a strong pro-Democratic electorate. The 2008 election, a perfect storm for the GOP, still only had a D+7 partisan advantage. And the average of presidential elections over the prior three cycles was just D+3.
So, in all likelihood the Democratic position is being exaggerated in the poll.
With that in mind, it's worthing breaking down the president's job approval. Overall, it's 47 percent approve, 49 percent disapprove. On the economy, it's 42 percent approve, 55 percent disapprove.
Now, Obama has a lead in the head-to-head over Romney, 49 to 46 among registered voters. But two points to bear in mind: (a) this is probably exaggerated; (b) Obama's lead must be very weak, as a solid chunk of people who disapprove of Obama on the number one issue (the economy) are still registering support for him.
Breaking down the head-to-head, we find Obama and Romney in a virtual tie on who would handle the economy better. I take this as good news for Romney, with an important caveat. Opinions on President Obama are virtually locked in, and his numbers are persistently under 50 percent on all the top issues. That is Romney's big advantage, but he has to sell himself as a good steward of the economy.
This gets back to my article in the recent edition of THE WEEKLY STANDARD. Romney needs to focus like a laserbeam on the top issues voters care about, and not let himself get drawn into Obama's distractions. His goal over the next five and a half months is simple: convince those voters in the middle of the country, who think Obama has done a bad job, that he can do better.
Jay Cost is a staff writer for THE WEEKLY STANDARD and the author of Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic, available now wherever books are sold.