Jim Pethokoukis passes along a nice print-and-saver of how Obama's record matches up against the economic indicators that most accurately predict re-elections. Pay attention to the top two in particular -- job creation and personal income growth. Political science has routinely hand-selected both as the economy's most accurate political fortune tellers.
My big takeaway for these two most important numbers: Obama is doing slightly better than the average loser and considerably worse than the average winner.
Something to note is that the term "average" includes some extraordinary outliers. In 1984, the economy averaged 347,000 net new jobs in the first nine months. With that record, based on this formula, President Reagan would have cleaned the floor with Democrats if they'd run the ghosts of FDR and Andrew Jackson on a joint ticket. In 2004, the economy averaged only 168,000 net new jobs per month until September, way below what Jim says Obama needs to get a 50 percent approval rating. The incumbent "should have" lost that year. Instead, George W. Bush won reelection pretty handily against a weak opponent.
That's the thing about elections. We can map out fundamentals and fine-tune our forecasts based on historical record. But ultimately this is a choice between two people driven in part by ineffable qualities that can't be captured in even the smartest formulas. By the books, this race shouldn't be close. Instead, it's a static neck-in-neck contest.