Mitt Romney has pulled a point or two ahead of President Obama in polls of likely voters. In polls of registered voters, Obama has the advantage. The president's job approval ratings are hovering in the upper 40 percent range, which suggests a close race.
Looking at this information, partisan activists come to wildly different conclusions about what to expect on Election Day. Democrats tend to believe Obama will be re-elected, while Republicans are more likely to think he will be a one-term president.
Some of this is just the nature of being a fan. Even when your favorite baseball team is down a run with two outs in the ninth, you still think there's a chance.
But something else is at work, as well, and it gets right back to the key issue of the campaign -- the economy. Forget same-sex marriage and the host of other buzz issues. If the economy improves, Obama will be re-elected. If it gets worse, he will lose.
The stock market and economic data are giving mixed signals, but partisans on both sides of the aisle think they know what's going to happen.
Most Democrats (55 percent) believe the economy is getting better. Two out of three Republicans (66 percent) think the economy is getting worse.
The attitudes extend to personal finances, as well. Just 20 percent of Republicans nationwide feel their own finances are getting better, while 53 percent believe the opposite. Democrats are evenly divided on this question.
These wildly differing expectations make sense if you think about the underlying partisan perceptions.
Democrats generally believe a larger government role is needed to help get the economy moving. They support the president's policies, including his health care plan. Some may be surprised that the benefits of his policies haven't kicked in yet. Others may believe that he needed an even bigger plan of government involvement to really jumpstart the economy. But 74 percent of Democrats think the president has done a good or an excellent job handling the economy.
Republicans tend to see the government as a burden that is weighing down the economy. They view the president's health care plan as a nightmare and the increase in spending during the Obama years as a disaster. Seventy-eight percent of Republicans feel the president is doing a poor job handling the economy.
Put it all together, and Democrats are confident of victory in November because they believe the economy will be better by then. To them, it's just a question of time before the benefits of the president's policies become visible. Republicans hold the opposite view. For both sides, if they are right about the economy, they are right about the election.
More precisely, of course, it's perceptions of the economy that matter. Since both party's voters will support their own nominee, it will come down to how voters not affiliated with either party view the economic situation.
Currently, 31 percent of unaffiliated voters believe the economy is getting better, while 48 percent think it's getting worse. When it comes to their own finances, 22 percent say they are improving, but 48 percent say they're not.
As for the president, 30 percent of unaffiliated voters believe he is doing a good job handling the economy. Forty-nine percent give him poor marks in this area. These are the numbers Team Obama needs to change if it wants to win in November.