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The public as prognosticator

The new Washington Post/ABC News poll asked respondents, "Just your best guess, who do you think will win the presidential election this year, [Barack Obama] or [Mitt Romney]?" It wasn't close -- 59% expect the president to win a second term, while only 34% believe the Republican will win. A new Gallup poll shows similar results for the same question: 58% see Obama as the eventual winner; 38% predict a Romney victory.

Given how competitive the race appears, these are pretty lopsided totals. To drive the point home, I made a chart:

Remember, these results have nothing to do with how the public intends to vote -- this is about predictions, not preferences. And with 10 weeks to go, a clear majority expect Obama win a win a second term.

There are a couple of angles to keep in mind. The first is, if a pollster were to call me asking this question, I'm not at all sure what my prediction would be. Yes, the president probably has a slight edge, especially given the electoral college makeup -- there are simply more avenues to 270 for Obama than Romney -- but there's ample evidence that should give Democrats pause.

Indeed, Romney and his allies will have truckloads full of cash to buy a barrage of attack ads; there are voter-suppression tactics being used in key states; states like Wisconsin and Michigan that looked like pretty safe "blue" wins are suddenly tossups; and two national polls have been released over the last week that show Romney with a narrow lead -- and that's before any kind of convention bounce. To assume Romney's toast seems silly to me.

Second, the expectations themselves may backfire. If rank-and-file Democrats simply assume Obama is likely to succeed, these Dems are much less likely to open their wallets and donate their time.

These polls suggest most Americans think the race has a clear frontrunner. I'm not sure where such certainty is coming from.