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As we mentioned this morning, Silver directs the New York Times political stats blog FiveThirtyEight. (That's the number of electors in the electoral college.) In 2008 Silver called the presidential winner in 49 states, erring only on Indiana, which Obama won by .9 percent. He also correctly predicted the winner in all 35 senate elections that year.
In his cover storyin the NYT Magazine yesterday, Silver said Obama now was a "slight underdog" for reelection. But he emphasized slight: "A couple of months of solid jobs reports, or the selection of a poor Republican opponent, would suffice to make him the favorite again."
Perry and Cain would be easier competition for Obama because they're more extreme than Romney—and incumbent presidents have fared better against candidates who are more extreme, Silver observed.
If the matchup is Obama versus Romney, the election likely will hinge on the direction of the economy, according to Silver. "The good news is that voters have short memories," he wrote. Voters may be willing to overlook the economy's troubles "provided it seems headed in the right direction."
Given that most economists don't expect a major change in the economy before next year's election, it's the direction Obama must focus on, Silver wrote: "Voters may think about the economy as falling into one of three basic categories—Good, Bad and Getting Better. . . . Obama would benefit if he could make a credible case for Getting Better."
Though Silver didn't say it, this is where Republicans' short-term interests may not align with the nation's. If some of Obama's economic proposals would indeed improve the economy before the election, Republicans may help their electoral chances by blocking them.
But that can be risky. Republicans aren't popular with voters now, Silver noted: while Obama's approval ratings (in the mid-40s) are low, the approval ratings of congressional Republicans are even lower, and they can rub off on their candidate.
What impact will the Occupy Wall Street movement have on the election? "You sometimes get the sense that the left has already gotten over Obama and is focusing on longer-term problems," Silver wrote. "This may be good for them, but it isn't necessarily good for Obama."
Silver's bottom line for an Obama-Romney race: If the economy is improving, Obama's chances of winning the popular vote are 60 percent; if it's sluggish, 40 percent; if it's stalled, 17 percent.