While the doomsayers watch CNN and the biased Gallup poll that shows Bush -- GASP! -- with an eight point lead, the real story is how Bush is only over 50% in two of four polls, and no incumbent wins if under 50% going into the election.
While most of America is watching the spread in the polls between President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry, key strategists in both parties have their eyes on a different set of numbers: Bush's share of the vote and his job approval in the final surveys before election day.
Analysts watch the incumbent's numbers in the polls so closely because most voters who stay undecided until the very end of a presidential campaign traditionally break for the challenger. As a result, challengers often run ahead of their final poll results, while incumbents rarely exceed their last poll numbers.
"We know from the history of presidential elections that when a president is polling below 50% going into the election, he usually loses," said Alan I. Abramowitz, an Emory University political scientist. "That is true of incumbent office holders in general. The incumbent usually ends up getting the percentage that he is getting in the final polls -- that's it."
By that standard, the race today is teetering right on the knife's edge, though perhaps tilting slightly toward Bush after he regained the lead in five separate national polls released over the weekend. More importantly, for the first time since the debates, Bush in three of the latest surveys cracked the 50% level in support -- the best news GOP strategists have seen in weeks.
Surveys released Saturday by Newsweek and ABC/Washington Post put Bush's support at 50% among likely voters. On Sunday, Bush reached 52% among likely voters in a CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll, opening an 8-percentage-point advantage over Kerry.
But a survey released over the weekend by Time placed Bush at 48% -- as did the Newsweek result among registered voters. And the daily tracking poll by independent pollster John Zogby on Sunday put Bush at 46% with likely voters. Among registered voters, Bush got 49% in the new Gallup Poll.
Bush's approval rating, another key indicator, is still running just below 50% in most polls.
In the final weeks of the campaign, Democrats are basing their hopes less on the difference between Bush and Kerry than on those surveys showing the president below 50% in support.
"This is a very well-known incumbent where people have strong views," said Democratic pollster Stanley B. Greenberg, a Kerry advisor. "His number [in the last polls] I believe is his number [on election day]."
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The article goes on to quote Matthew Dowd extensively and let him weasel his way out of this precarious situation, but the headline gives it all away: Bush is on the edge. Now, what will push him over?
Iraq? Flu vaccine shortages? Privatizing Social Security? The draft talk?
I'm betting on a combination of all of the above.