Since Romney secured the nomination in mid-April, the horse race has been rattled by supposed game-changers, ranging from Obama’s decision to endorse gay marriage to terrible new jobs numbers. Political pundits engrossed in the twists and turns of the campaign agree that events and poor messaging have conspired to reduce Obama’s chances. After Obama’s self-inflicted wounds last Friday, the best NBC’s First Read could say was that at least the race was “still competitive.”
Despite what you might expect based on conventional wisdom, polling suggests that a tumultuous month has done little, if anything, to alter the contours of the race: Obama continues to hold a narrow but relatively consistent lead in polls of registered voters (RV), but Romney fares better in polls of likely voters (LV).
*Gallup and Rasmussen are included occasionally, to the same extent as the RCP average.
If you can see any clear trends, you should get your eyes checked. Obama consistently holds a modest lead in polls of registered voters, but the race is tighter in LV polls. This morning, Harry Enten did the math and found that Obama leads by an average of four percentage points in RV polls since April 15, but Romney leads by an average of about one percentage point in LV polls.
Fluctuations in the polling averages are often due to the ebb and flow of likely voter polls. In early May, Obama’s lead shrunk as a wave of likely voter polls pushed Obama’s average down. The seemingly inexplicable recent movement toward Obama was just the result of Romney-friendly LV polls cycled out of time-sensitive averages and being replaced by newer Obama-friendly polls of registered voters.
Why is the race so stable? For starters, the electorate is deeply polarized and there aren’t very many persuadable voters. Of course, many of those persuadable voters aren’t turned into the race. Most haven’t heard of Cory Booker, let alone care about his musings on Meet the Press. Obama’s comments about the state of the private sector may hurt him, but probably not until deployed aggressively by the Romney campaign.
The voters most likely to follow the intricacies of the race are also those most likely to have firmly made up their minds. Since they’re also the voters most likely to get stressed out by the ups and downs of the campaign, they would be wise to tune out the static and focus on the persistent and resilient trend.