Over the summer, polls showed Obama with a broad but narrow lead across the battleground states, roughly commensurate with his advantage nationally. Romney looked slightly weak in Ohio, but he only trailed by two or three points in public surveys—hardly an insurmountable margin. And Romney’s Ohio problem was somewhat mitigated by the selection of Paul Ryan, which appeared to vault Wisconsin into the toss-up column and create a somewhat credible path to victory without the Buckeye State.
But Obama’s DNC bounce has cascaded across the battleground states, endangering Romney’s position in nearly every contested state. Yesterday, polls released by the Washington Post in Florida and Ohio showed Obama leading by eight and four points respectively in two virtual must-win states for Romney.
While the polls in Florida aren't yet as disheartening to Boston as Ohio, Team Romney should be extremely troubled by their Ohio, as well as Virginia and Wisconsin. Obama has led in every poll in all three states, with an average lead of more than 4.5 points, and even more in Wisconsin. Obama victories in all three states would give him 278 electoral votes, more than enough for victory. And although Nevada has never figured prominently into Romney's electoral calculus, he also trails in every poll conducted in the Silver State.
In Ohio, Romney’s problems extend beyond his four or five point deficit. His unfavorable ratings exceed 49 percent in every post-DNC survey, suggesting that a Romney victory would require a meaningful number of voters to change their minds about his character. The Washington Post poll also found Romney's unfavorable rating at 50 percent. But Ohioans have already weathered a full presidential campaign’s worth of advertisements, and the Obama campaign has allocated a disproportionate share of the advertising dollars to the Buckeye State, making it difficult to envision the Romney campaign outspending Obama by a decisive margin.
Perhaps the most troubling element of Romney’s position in Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin is the size of Obama’s lead compared to the national polls. On average, Obama leads nationally by about 4 points in post-DNC surveys. The post-convention polls in Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin point toward an even larger lead, perhaps as large as 6 points in Wisconsin, and 4.5 or 5 points in Virginia and Ohio. The polling averages aren’t perfect, so there shouldn’t be a false degree of precision about whether Romney trails by more in these battleground states than he does nationally. But the evidence tilts in that direction, which suggests that Romney’s climb in the battlegrounds could be greater than it is nationally.
Romney’s position in Florida or North Carolina is not yet as troubling, in part because Romney appears to be doing better in both states than he is nationally. But Romney still trails in both states, which illustrates the extent that Romney has fallen behind nationally. At this point, Obama is probably better positioned in North Carolina (which would represent Obama’s 332nd through 347th electoral votes) than Romney is in any battleground state. Recent polls in Florida might point toward a growing Obama lead—the last three surveys show Obama leading by 4 points with at least 50 percent of the vote. By the time you read this post, a Quinnipiac/NYT/CBS poll will add their opinion on Florida and if they show Romney trailing by 4 points or more, it might be time to reevaluate whether Florida is merely tilting in Obama's direction.
At this point, it’s hard to identify any bright spot for Romney. At first glance, New Hampshire, Nevada, Iowa, and Colorado seem like areas where Romney has held up relatively well. But Romney’s relatively strong standing might be a product of a small number of polls, allowing outlying and Republican-leaning firms like Rasmussen to play an outsized role in polling averages.
Recently, Karl Rove is emphasizing Romney’s ability to win the election without Ohio. That’s technically possible, but, ultimately, Romney can’t count on sweeping New Hampshire, Nevada, Iowa, and Colorado in a close election. Obama has led the majority of polls conducted in each state since Romney secured the nomination, and all four tilted-Democratic with respect to the country in 2008. Although it’s unclear whether Obama is likelier to win Iowa or Colorado, the Obama campaign can probably count on winning enough of these Electoral Votes to ensure victory if they carry Virginia or Ohio, as currently seems likely.
The breadth of Obama’s map isn’t as striking as it was in 2008, when remained he strong in Missouri, Indiana, Georgia, and Montana all the way through Election Day. But Obama’s lead in the tipping point states is actually comparable to 2008, when Obama led by 5.5 points in Colorado, his 270th electoral vote in both the pre-election polls and the eventual results. Today, Obama leads by 4.5 points in Virginia and Ohio, the two states that would currently provide #270.
In short, Romney is in danger of getting overwhelmed. Obama has established a clear lead in Virginia, Ohio, and Wisconsin, and there are signs that Obama might hold a similar lead in Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, or Colorado. The breadth of Obama's lead and Romney's deficit in North Carolina and Florida will make it difficult for Romney to concentrate the resources necessary to fight back state-by-state. Instead, Romney will need a large national swing to move the battleground states in his direction, but decisive swings have been very rare in the 2012 election. So far, there has been only one, and it was toward Obama. Certainly, polls conducted so far this week don't show signs of such a swing in Romney's direction.