Start with the polling. It appears that the bulk of the Obama post-convention bounce has been in blue states where his left-oriented convention stirred up the enthusiasm of an already committed group of voters. Among likely voters identified in The Washington Post poll -- taken after the conventions -- Obama holds a slim one-point edge. And an analysis of Rasmussen's state-by-state likely voter data indicates a tie in the the battleground states.
For example, when a poll shows an Obama lead among likely voters of, say 47-45, it is based on an assumption that blacks will cast 13 percent of the vote. But the lack of enthusiasm among Obama's base for his candidacy and their doubts about the economy make an 11 percent black turnout more likely. In this event, Romney would actually win in this sample by 46-45.
And then there is the enthusiasm gap. All recent polling suggests that Republican- and GOP-leaning Independents are 13 points more enthusiastic and following the race more closely than their Democratic counterparts. If the grassroots do their job, this will yield a stronger Romney vote.
Finally, when every poll among every sample has Obama below 50 percent of the vote, it is most likely that the undecided have, in fact, decided not to back his re-election.
But to crawl out of the statistical weeds, let's examine the state of the partisan dialogue. Former President Bill Clinton made a huge blunder when he accepted the Republican challenge and flatly -- and loudly -- asserted that we are, in fact, better off than we were four years ago. Polls show that only about 33 percent of voters agree, while close to half do not see the world that way.
Finally, both parties seemed happily to embrace the same formulation of the difference between them. Both agreed that the Republican Party is based on a philosophy of individual responsibility. Obama articulated it as, "You're on your own." Republicans put it differently: "We'll get government off your back." Democrats said theirs was a party that would lend you a hand.
Gallup measured these two options, and voters chose "leave me alone" over "lend me a hand" by 54-35.
Over the long haul, these are the questions that will dominate voting intentions. The function of the conventions is to formulate and articulate each party's view of the world. The fact that they were so similar and that each was willing to trust its fate to the question of, "Are you better off?" means that the Romney message will have a very strong advantage. The decision of the Democrats to embrace this choice and not to move to the center will make it impossible for them either to re-elect their president or to command a majority in the new Senate.