I think these points by pollster Scott Rasmussen are true:
Now [that Romney is almost certain to become the Republican nominee] President Barack Obama moves to center stage and becomes the defining figure of the general election campaign. Now it’s about Obama, not Romney, as the election becomes primarily a referendum on his first term.
The most important indicator of the president’s prospects will be his job-approval rating…Obama’s ratings suggest we are heading for a potentially very close race. For the past 32 months, the full month approval ratings for the president have been remarkably stable, holding to a very narrow range of 44 percent to 49 percent. People seem to have formed an opinion of the president, and nothing can change their minds. Those who oppose the president tend to feel more strongly about it than those who support him.
True as far as it goes. They have not yet begun to fight, however.
The general voting public (as opposed to the politically-obsessed denizens of the blogosphere) hardly knows Romney at this point. Obama will try his very best to make sure that voters get to know the worst of Romney, or the caricatured and/or distorted version of Romney. Whereas—unlike in 2008—the public actually knows a lot now about Obama. Maybe not his past or his grades, but what’s far more important to them—his job performance.
So Obama’s approval ratings (barring some enormous game-changing event) are quite set, but Romney’s are not. That means that more of those who weakly support Obama could be moved to the Romney camp, whereas those who detest Obama are not going to be changing their minds about him.
One thing I don’t credit, however, is the oft-repeated idea that people lie on polls to say they approve of Obama more than they actually do, either because they don’t want to be thought racist or for some other reason. I don’t think that’s much of a phenomenon at all, for the simple reason that I remember it was much-discussed in 2008, and many people said McCain would do better than the polls had shown as a result. But he did not. In fact, the polls were fairly spot-on in predicting the election results.
I have long felt that 2012 would be a close election. I see no reason to change my mind now.