It's probably a lazy habit, which I admit to falling into at times, but it's common to try to find historical parallels for a presidential election. If you're a Democrat, you're hoping 2012 is like 1996 or 1984 -- an incumbent president bounces back after a rough midterm cycle to easily win a second term. If you're a Republican, you're looking at 1992 or 1980 -- an incumbent president, facing widespread public discontent, gets replaced after one term.
But there's a strong case to be made that 2012 looks quite a bit like 2004 -- an incumbent president with a tepid approval rating, facing an electorate open to change and a motivated opposition, takes on a wealthy Massachusetts challenger his party settled on, somewhat grudgingly, after an awkward primary process.
And with that in mind, just for kicks, take a moment to consider some of the polling that came out around eight years ago at this time.
In late September, shortly before the first debate, a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll found George W. Bush leading John Kerry by eight points. A week later, shortly after their initial debate, the same pollster found the president's lead had quickly evaporated and the two were tied.
And a week after that, a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted exactly eight years ago today and tomorrow, showed Kerry inching past the incumbent president, taking a narrow lead among likely voters, 49% to 48%.
To be sure, it was just one pollster of many, but it was a major national survey showing a nine-point swing to the challenger over the course of about two weeks.
It wasn't long, of course, before the poll swung back, and Bush went on to win a narrow victory. But I covered that race pretty closely, and I don't remember Republicans looking for the nearest window to jump out of eight years ago this week, which only helps reinforce my larger suspicion that the left and right tend to deal with discouraging news in different ways.
To clarify, this is not to say (or predict) that President Obama will bounce back because Bush did. Time will tell. But it does suggest Democrats tearing their hair out -- and Republicans loosening the champagne cork -- may be overreacting.
It's deeply unsatisfying for those who want to know -- and want to know now -- who's going to win the election, but the calendar doesn't care what we want.
It's possible Romney changed the fundamental nature of the race with his debate performance last week, and will carry that momentum into an election victory.
And it's possible Romney's bump will soon fade, the president will be more impressive in the upcoming debates, and Obama will retake the lead, just as Bush did eight years ago.
And it's possible the two will go back and forth, trading leads, as unforeseen events pop up.
The larger point -- and I do have one (hat tip) -- is that there's too much time left on the clock. As partisans who overreacted to the CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll conducted exactly eight years ago can tell you, feeling elated or dejected by today's results is probably a mistake.