Reality Check

Jack W. Germond dismisses the early presidential polls. He says that for "political professionals the single most important finding is what is always called 'the wrong track number,' derived from the standard question used for years: 'In your opinion, is the country (or state) headed in the right direction or off on the wrong track?'":

If [the wrong track] number is rising above 50 percent and beyond, incumbents are in trouble. In the immediate aftermath of the first Gulf War in 1991, the wrong track number was below 20 percent and George H.W. Bush seemed a sure thing for a second term. But it rose steadily in 1992 to reach above 70 percent in some surveys, and Bush finally carried only 38 percent of the vote as an incumbent.

The president's approval numbers have also taken a 5 point tumble over the last month. I wonder if his rather transparent deferral of courage to the GOP on the debt has anything to do with it. My own view is, unsurprisingly, un-Krugmanesque. If Obama seeks to win re-election by playing on fears about cuts in Medicare, he'll falter, because people know the crisis is real. Best to stick with the message of fairer debt reduction, shared sacrifice, and some real Medicare cost-cutting that doesn't simply rely on the bend-the-cost-curve experiments whose success is as yet unprovable.