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What to Make of Romney’s Post-Debate Poll Boost

It’s no secret that Via Meadia thinks the RealClearPolitics “poll of polls” is the most consistently useful and accessible way to monitor public opinion during the endless American presidential campaign cycle. (How many days or even hours after November 6 will it take RCP to post its first poll of polls on prospective Democratic nominees in 2016?)

Thus we definitely think it’s newsworthy that yesterday, for the first time in this race, President Obama fell behind (slightly behind, by 0.4 percent) Governor Romney in RCP’s average of national polls. Today that advantage doubled to 0.8 percent. As far as we can make out this reflects a methodological change; the Gallup tracking poll is one of the RCP components and Gallup has shifted from its normal registered voter polling to its special election season likely voter polling. At the same time, old pre-debate polls are constantly dropping out of RCP’s basket, and post-debate polls are dropping in.

So the country hasn’t changed since yesterday, and the race hasn’t changed either, but that shouldn’t be of great comfort to the president’s team. If Gallup had switched to a likely voter poll two days ago, the lead might well have flipped then.

From where we sit, the race looks much as it has looked since last spring. It is too close to call, but not because either candidate really inspires the center. Most American voters are where they were in 2004: disillusioned with the incumbent and unimpressed by the challenger. Governor Romney’s debate victory was important precisely in this context: people are now giving him a second look. If voters like what they see, his temporary bump in the polls could last until Election Day. If not, the President’s earlier lead will reappear.

We don’t know what will happen, and we don’t think any of the much ballyhooed electoral models know either. Credible arguments can be made for an Obama collapse, √† la Carter in 1980, or for a swift Romney fade. Either candidate could still win decisively, or the election could be a cliffhanger. Nobody knows, and as far as we can see, nobody can know.

But that won’t stop people from making predictions, or getting angry when their predictions are countered by equally empty predictions from the other side.

There’s a tiny Romney lead and a month to go. Not even the angels know more than this.

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