All signs point to a presidential race that will be very tight. Neither candidate seems capable of pulling away.
Not much in the just-released NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conflicts with the story line that we’re going to see a lot of close races this fall. Democratic pollster Peter Hart and Republican poll-taker Bill McInturff found that 48 percent of the 1,000 American adults interviewed (including a subsample of cell-phone users) approve of the job that President Obama has done. This percentage is 2 points short of the 50 percent approval rating that would signal he is a favorite for reelection. A rating below 46 percent suggests that a president is toast. Obama is right in the middle—in the 47 percent to 49 percent zone—suggesting an equal chance of winning or losing.
One source of good news for Democrats is that Obama draws a 51 percent approval rating on foreign policy; the bad news is that voters don’t seem likely to vote on foreign-policy matters this year. Conversely, the president got his worst approval rating on the economy: Just 43 percent approve of his handling of economic matters while 52 percent disapprove. Unfortunately for Democrats, the economy is the issue that does seem to be of paramount importance to voters.
(...) In terms of the presidential trial-heat figures, among registered voters, Obama leads Romney by 4 percentage points: 47 percent to 43 percent, with 11 percent saying they are unsure. Well-known and well-defined incumbents generally draw fewer undecided voters in the end than lesser-defined challengers do, so for incumbents, what you see is what you get. Generally, though, an incumbent with 49 or 50 percent will fall over the finish line first. Final polls of 47 or 48 percent signal more trouble.