AP Photos: Carolyn Kaster, Evan Vucci

It’s been a foregone conclusion for months that Mitt Romney would get the Republican nomination for U.S. President, but now it’s all but official since he’s only one delegate away from the nod. With that news hitting the streets recently, the editors at Gallup came up with an interesting list of keys to the presidential election.

You may already have your mind made up so these indicators aren’t an effort to sway you in one direction or another, but merely to shed light on what a few experts believe will be the flashpoints to winning in the ballot box. If you like tracking the election like I do, Gallup has a pretty cool and thorough page that will provide updated poll information.

Key Indicators

  1. President Barack Obama’s job approval rating. According to the polls, the approval rating now stands at 47 percent. So what does that mean historically? According to Gallup, this number “falls in the middle of the ranges of prior presidents seeking re-election in May.” It’s higher than Jimmy Carter’s and George H.W. Bush’s approval ratings of “38 percent and 41 percent at this time in 1980 and 1992, respectively.” They both lost reelection bids. However, Obama is below the 50 percent approval ratings of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. Interestingly enough, his numbers most closely resemble George W. Bush at this point in the election calendar.
  2. Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney have been statistically tied among registered voters in Gallup’s 2012 trial-heat ballots for nearly a month now. This is an interesting number. According to Gallup, “in the last three elections in which a Democratic incumbent sought re-election (1996, 1980 and 1964), the Republican challenger did much better on the eve of the election among likely voters than among registered voters, suggesting Romney may have a structural advantage on that score if the race remains close among registered voters.” But again, this is not a scientific predictor by any means as “John Kerry led incumbent George W. Bush among registered voters in late May 2004 by two percentage points.” And we know how that turned out.
  3. Americans’ overall mood about the state of the country is not favorable for an incumbent seeking re-election, given that a president’s re-election partly depends on voters’ satisfaction with his first four years in office. “About one-quarter of Americans, 24 percent, are currently satisfied with the way things are going in the country, while 74 percent are dissatisfied,” according to the latest Gallup numbers. These numbers are most comparable to the negative mood Americans had during the 1992 campaign. However, the numbers have begun to swing to the positive, more than doubling where there were in August and September of last year.
  4. Americans are slightly more likely to say Romney would do a very good or good job of handling the economy than to say this about Obama, and are more likely to say the economy will be in better shape during the next four years if Romney is elected than if Obama is elected. With his business background, “Romney also has a slight advantage over Obama as the better manager of government,” adds Gallup. As Carter and the first Bush can testify, when the economy becomes the key issue in an election, they can truly dominate the discussion to the point that other issues become little more than a whimper. However…
  5. Although the economy is the dominant election issue, Americans do not view economic problems monolithically. “Obama is seen as better able than Romney to handle health-care costs, college costs and living standards of the poor,” says Gallup, while “Romney is preferred for handling economic growth, the federal budget deficit and debt, and improving returns on personal investments.”

As the Gallup piece surmises, this election cycle will have many twists and turns along the way, any one of which could sway the outcome. We’ll return soon with more election coverage. If you have opinions you’d like to share, please add a comment below or email me at dwilliams@sbmedia.com.