Reading the US election runes

Combination picture of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama Image copyright AP
Image caption Correspondents say the candidates are fighting for a small slice of the electorate that is still undecided

It was fun while it lasted, the rumour of a gaunt and dynamic game-changer riding over the horizon.

But the idea that retired General David Petraeus would leave the CIA, lead the Republican surge, stomp on the Obama insurgents and hand Romney a victory quickly evaporated.

No, his office said, he would not be Mitt Romney's vice-presidential running mate (purists might note they actually said "he will not seek elected office" - I suppose the VP is technically elected by the electoral college).

So, with three months to go, it is back to hard-pounding in a few states.

President Barack Obama is carpet-bombing the states of Colorado and Arizona with love over the next few days on a multi-town tour.

Oracles and entrails

This election will be won in a handful of places.

The New Yorker, in a fun piece, suggests that it all boils down to 916,643 undecided (and rather ignorant) voters in six states.

That is not really true - this election is more about persuading the unenthusiastic but decided to actually bother to vote than changing minds.

It still feels very tight. There is a strong dislike of Mr Obama in much of the country, but no matching enthusiasm for Mr Romney.

A Gallup poll today has some very bad news for Mr Obama on the economy, suggesting he gets less than a 50% approval rating in all six (or eight) crucial swing states.

But another poll suggests Mr Romney's favourability rating is stuck at 40%.

Real Clear Politics' tracking of 7 polls suggests an average of a 3% lead for Mr Obama.

The ever-entertaining Michael Tomasky mines the data to predict a possible landslide for Mr Obama, arguing he can lose four key states and still romp home.

I am not convinced.

And the U-T San Diego newspaper's belief in a Romney landslide is based more on faith in the country's fury with the president than number-crunching.

Politicians who say things like "the only poll that counts is the one on the day" are fibbing. They all, obsessively, study opinion polls.

But sometimes, like oracles and entrails, it is not clear what they are trying to tell us.