Now that the field is basically set for the 2012 general election, how do we dig into the poll numbers to get an idea of where we may be heading?
The New York Times' Nate Silver says it's important to pay attention to Barack Obama's approval ratings and economic indicators to get an idea of what may happen in November.
In the early stages of general election campaigns, a president’s approval ratings have often been at least as accurate a guide to his eventual performance as the head-to-head numbers. Thus, for at least the next couple of months, I would pay as much attention to Mr. Obama’s approval ratings as his head-to-head polls against Mr. Romney.
It is probably slightly better to look at Mr. Obama’s net approval rating — his approval less his disapproval — than the approval rating alone.
It is also still very worth looking at economic data. But do it intelligently. The American economy is a hard thing to measure, and there are not any magic bullets when it comes to predicting the vote.
Common sense indicators like gross domestic product and job growth during the election year have historically explained about 30 percent or 40 percent of election results (but not more than that). Models that claim to do better than that based on economic factors alone are mistaking noisy data for a signal and have a very poor track record at prediction.