Polls give Obama the early edge over Romney, Gingrich

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WASHINGTON — A new round of polling shows President
Barack Obama ahead of the two leading  Republican candidates in the 2012
election. But 11 months before the votes are actually cast, how much
stock should be put into these findings?

Polling experts say check back in about two to three months.

A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows the
president leading Romney 47-45 percent, and Gingrich 51-40 percent. USA
Today and Gallup give Obama a 47-46 percent advantage over Romney, and
50-44 percent over Gingrich. And a Reuters/Ipsos poll puts Obama ahead
48-40 percent over Romney, and 51-38 percent over the former House
speaker.

As members of Obama’s team continue to map out their
strategy, they’re no doubt heartened by the findings. But early horse
race numbers of this sort tend not to be reliable predictors of the
final outcome. For instance, Gallup found Jimmy Carter leading Ronald
Reagan by 24 points in December 1979.

At a briefing for reporters in Washington on
Wednesday, Gallup editors and a pair of political scientists offered
evidence that there’s a dramatic increase in the predictive quality of
head-to-head polling at about seven months before the election,
typically just as the parties settle on their respective nominees.

Instead it is the incumbent president’s job approval
rating that provides a better gauge of his political strength in the
earlier stages.

According to Gallup’s Jeffrey Jones, presidents with
approval ratings at 50 percent or higher tend to be sure bets for
re-election. Those in the lower 40 percent range have typically lost.

Obama, then, is in a gray area. He’s hovered in the
low-to-mid 40 percent range in Gallup’s daily tracking poll. He is at 46
percent in the Reuters poll, and 47 percent according to NBC News/Wall
Street Journal.

“It’s not clear how far below 50 percent you can be and still get re-elected,” Jones said.

Historically, a president’s job approval rating has
changed only slightly in his re-election year, and any movement that
does occur tends to be negative, Jones added.

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