The Weak Economy Still Isn’t Bad Enough to Defeat Obama

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Photo: Spencer Platt/2012 Getty Images

The release of the monthly jobs report seems as good a time as any to step back and take stock of the state of the presidential race, as the economy is surely the most important variable at play. I’ve been saying for a while that President Obama is ahead, and that remains the case. The jobs report doesn’t change the picture very much. The topline for new jobs created, 115,000, was a little disappointing. On the other hand, as has been happening regularly, continued revisions show that previous months added more jobs than had been believed. The potential exists for the recovery to stall out, but it hasn’t happened yet.

One odd notion that keeps circulating is that Romney is in bad shape because the electoral map is tough for him. The Washington Post today reports, “Mitt Romney has a narrow path to the presidency.” Likewise, The Wall Street Journal tells us that Romney needs to win a bunch of states that Obama won in 2008, therefore, “That makes Mr. Romney's path to the White House narrow and perilous, while Mr. Obama has multiple routes to victory.” Other analysts have been saying the same thing.

That isn’t really how it works. Yes, in theory, the electoral map can differ from the national vote, especially in a very close race. But on the whole, the two are closely linked. If Obama has “more routes to victory,” this isn’t some inherent feature of the electoral map, it simply reflects that he’s currently ahead. And as the whip-smart new blog Electionate points out, polls showing Obama ahead in various swing states are a function of a national lead. (The state polls look better for Obama than the national polls because the national polls are disproportionately influenced by the frequency of the Gallup and Rasmussen outfits, both of which have showed a Republican lean this cycle compared with other polling.) If Romney caught Obama nationally, then the electoral map would look better.

And despite the odd fixation on the electoral map by the press corps, the Romney campaign, at least, possesses a clear-eyed view of the underlying situation:

Romney’s advisers see two things in particular working to their advantage despite some of the geographic hurdles they face. One is the overall weakness of the economy, which they believe will ultimately decide the election, and the other is that enthusiasm within the Obama coalition is down from 2008.

Right! Right now, the economy probably isn’t weak enough for Romney to win. But it could easily happen, and if it does, then the map will look better, too.