Life would be much easier if we always had stark comparisons. Perhaps we do this fall, though at times it seems a tad muddy.

Wouldn’t it be simple if a majority of the electorate had already decided they were for Mitt Romney or Barack Obama and the nation could concentrate on the matters we struggle with on a daily basis, such as paying our bills, enjoying our families and mowing the lawn?

Even in 1980, when the nation was mired in a morass of dismal economic news, fuel shortages and Americans held hostage in Iran, the polls told us little about the outcome of the election. Gallup polls immediately before Jimmy Carter was thrashed by Ronald Reagan showed only a three percent gap between the candidates; Reagan went on to beat Carter by nearly 10 points.

Romney at Solyndra

Today the Real Clear Politics average of polling shows the president with nearly a three-point lead in the general election. There’s no doubt that the numbers will vary greatly between now and November; why given the state of the economy, turmoil in Middle East and a president with a job approval rate well below 50 percent don’t we see a sizable margin for Mitt Romney?

It’s human nature to cling to the devil you know versus the great unknown of an opponent. As bad as things may seem, we all question whether the medicine will be worse than the disease.

Another feature of our political system is the power of incumbency. We grant great leeway to our national leaders to screw up with the best of intentions. We develop a relationship with our representatives and our president believing that while they might not have the nation going in the right direction, they’re working on it. Perhaps with more time things will be better?

President’s rarely take responsibility for their records and never the parts that aren’t popular or positive. An opponent in a presidential election must highlight the failings of the current White House occupant but more importantly convey how their agenda will make things better. It’s a daunting task.

Presidential nominees must walk a tightrope between being a negative-Nelly and selling their agenda. Most aren’t very good at doing either. Presidents facing re-election, however, are quite adept at sending the message that the next guy could be worse; the situation is getting better, so we best not rock the boat.

Romney has a particularly difficult task ahead. In a USA Today/Gallup poll on who would be better for the economy over the next four years Romney came out a whopping nine points ahead of President Obama. With the economy being the single most important issue to the electorate, Romney should be trouncing the president in election polls, yet he’s trailing.

The same poll showed American’s optimism on the economy is at a four-year high and the president has had universally positive personal popularity numbers in other polling.

Will likeability trump competence in the fall? While Mitt Romney has been on the political scene for some time, he is not well-known by the majority of the public and his armor is not without a few chinks.

Romney’s clean-cut businessman appearance and notable wealth don’t play well in a nation struggling with poverty levels at an all-time high. Romney’s facade and demeanor scream one percent not the average Joe or Jane.

In a nation so in need of someone who understands balance sheets why can’t Romney make that connection?

Romney suffers from several ills, not the least of being the images painted by his GOP competitors during the nomination process. Romney is most closely seen through the prism of his successful career at Bain Capital. Romney’s record of turning around a failing Salt Lake City Olympics is barely mentioned.

The president’s campaign has dove-tailed off Romney’s GOP opponent’s message of cannibal capitalism. The Obama re-election campaign has matched Romney’s criticism of the president’s record blow-for-blow with big business anti-Bain rhetoric, inaccurate portrayal of Romney’s employment record as the Governor of Massachusetts while highlighting Romney’s political shifts.

Romney is making the fatal error of allowing his opposition to define him.

Romney needs to change his message from one highlighting Obama’s failings to a vision of a greater America. The public is all too familiar with the dismal performance of the president and focusing on how miserable Obama may be does little to instill confidence in Mr. Romney’s vision for the future.

Allow the SuperPACs to slam Obama for his broken promises and abysmal record Mitt. Take a message from Ronald Reagan and focus on the “shining city on the hill.” Make people believe in a better tomorrow and they’ll be much more likely to let go of yesterday.