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Daily Breakdown: Romney Gains?

Before looking at the details, take in the big picture. Out of nine possible surveys, six of the polls showed Romney improving over the prior result compared to one for Obama. Not every day has been this decisive in Romney’s favor, but the balance of polls over the last week have pointed toward marginal movement in his favor—perhaps by a point or two. One or two points aren’t much, but that’s as much movement as we get in this race and it's a pretty close one, so it’s worth noting.

Even so, the biggest single piece of news was probably good news for Obama. The Marquette Law poll showed Obama leading by three points in Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin, where recent Rasmussen and PPP polls showed Romney creeping into the lead. If Obama’s up by a bit in Wisconsin, that would put the state near the national mean, making it one of the most important states for the last two months of the race. Interestingly, Obama hasn’t started to air advertisements there, although perhaps that will change after the conventions.

Romney’s best news was probably the SurveyUSA poll in Nevada, which showed Obama leading by just 2 points—the closest poll of the Silver State since May. But while I don’t want to get too hung up on the internals of these polls, it’s tough to avoid the fact that the poll showed Obama beneath 50 percent among Latino voters, and it’s pretty unlikely that Obama is doing so poorly.

The AP put out a poll showing Obama up by just 1 point among registered voters, which hardly augurs well for how he might fair after the transition to a likely voter model. That said, it’s probably worth flagging this note: while almost every poll shows Romney with a lead on the economy, the AP poll also asked about social issues “like abortion and gay marriage” and found Obama leading 54-33. How much does that have to do with Obama's ability to outperform his approval rating on economic issues? I suspect it might have quite a bit to do with it, especially given the Obama campaign's relentless focus on cultural issues.

Odds and Ends

--The Washington Post asks “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” after observing that most people tend to be friends with people of similar political persuasion. While they offer an explanation of their own, here’s another: geographic and social polarization. Let’s be blunt, if you’re a white evangelical Christian living in west Texas, most of your friends are going to be white evangelical Christians from west Texas. If you’re a 18-24 year old college graduate living in Seattle, most of your friends are probably 18-24 year old college graduates from Seattle. Here’s a different way to frame it: how many people have a group of friends representative of the entire country? In a country where economic, demographic, and cultural groups increasingly divide along neat partisan-lines, an unrepresentative group of friends seems likely to lean one way or another. 

--As if anyone needed more evidence of the turnout and enthusiasm challenges facing Obama, consider these details from last night’s NBC/WSJ poll. Just half of Latinos and young people consider themselves very enthusiastic about this election. That’s nearly 20 points beneath the 2008 levels at the same time before the conventions. Some of that is attributable to the absence of a Democratic primary, but I doubt that’s all of it. Whether the Obama campaign can rile these voters up or convince them to unenthusiastically turnout could be the difference between victory and defeat.