It’s just the first daily Gallup tracking poll of the general election, but Mitt Romney’s slim 47-45 lead on President Obama is already being called historically significant. As BuzzFeed reports, every president who was reelected since 1980 had a lead on his opponent at this point in the Gallup tracking poll.
But how meaningful is this really? Obama and Romney are still in a statistical tie. And Romney’s small lead isn’t due to unusually high support for him or low support for Obama. Both appear to fall within a fairly typical range. The president is still at 45 percent in the poll, which is only slightly lower than recent successful incumbents. George W. Bush was at 47 percent in April 2004, while Bill Clinton was at 49 percent in 1996.
The polling numbers for modern losing incumbents also show how unreliable the tracking poll is at this point. In April 1992, George H.W. Bush led Clinton by 14 points, and in April 1980 Jimmy Carter led Ronald Reagan by eight points. Obviously both Clinton and Reagan made up significant ground over the next seven months.
Daily tracking polls will swing back and forth between now and the election, and it’s probably futile to read historical significance into the first one of them. Today’s poll seems to show that Obama isn’t going to be handed an easy win like many of his supporters believe. But it definitely doesn’t predict a Romney victory in November.