The headline on the lead story in Thursday’s Times reads: “In Wariness on Economy, Poll Finds Opening for Romney.” Citing the findings from a Times/CBS News opinion survey carried out earlier this week, the article went on to say that a lingering concern among Americans “about their own financial circumstances is allowing Mitt Romney to persuade voters that he could improve their economic prospects more than President Obama.”
On the face of it, this is highly encouraging news for the presumptive G.O.P. nominee. In our straitened times, it is a rarely challenged truism that economic concerns dominate elections. Now that we are well into the third year of a recovery, however weak, from a deep recession, the incumbent should be getting some credit.
If he isn’t, if voters still think somebody else could do a better job of improving their lot, his electoral prospects would appear to be grim—much grimmer than the conventional wisdom among political professionals, pundits, and speculators would indicate. (On the betting site Intrade, Obama is still the strong favorite to defeat Romney.)
But is that the full story? Not quite. A close look at the Times/CBS News survey, and other recent polls, reveals a complicated and ambiguous picture. Yes, there are some positive signs for the G.O.P. and worrying ones for the White House. But the trends are still going in Obama’s direction. What the poll really reinforces is just how critical what happens to the economy in the next few months will be.