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Daily Breakdown: Is Obama Struggling in Nevada?

Without CBS/NYT/Quinnipiac, today was all but assured to be a better polling day for Romney. That said, the polls still suggest that Obama leads nationally, as well as in states worth 348 electoral votes.

Let's talk about Nevada. In most of the electoral maps produced here over the last four months, Nevada was presumed to be one of the very first battleground states to enter Obama's column. After all, Obama won the state by a double-digit margin in 2008, the state is extremely diverse, and Romney hasn’t led in a single poll since the onset of the general election campaign.

All of those points are still true, but Obama’s national bounce doesn't appear to have materialized in Nevada to the same extent that it has elsewhere. Last night's NBC/Marist poll showed Obama with a two point lead, 49-47. Similarly, a CNN poll found Obama ahead by three points, 49-46. Other surveys from YouGov/Economist and PPP suggest that Obama's doing somewhat better in Nevada, but Nevada was one of Obama's best states prior to the convention; today, there's a case that Obama is positioned as well or better in every other battleground state (other than North Carolina). Perhaps the DNC wasn't able to rejuvenate optimism about the direction of the country in a state hit especially hard by the housing crisis. Regardless of the explanation, weakness in Nevada could have consequences for the Electoral College map. 

To be sure, the exact electoral math isn't especially significant if Obama continues to lead by enough to ensure an Electoral College victory. But if Obama's lead narrows, or if Obama's lead requires the Romney campaign to reevaluate its strategy, the contours of the electoral map could matter again. Obama's strength in Ohio already has some commentators arguing that Romney should concede the Buckeye State. To make that decision, the Romney campaign would need to be sure that Obama isn't similarly solid in states worth 252 electoral votes, since 18 additional electoral votes from Ohio would just seal Romney's fait. With Nevada looking a little more tenuous for the president, there's a case that those 6 electoral votes could plausibly go to Romney, even while he loses Ohio.

However, Iowa’s newfound lean toward Obama could make up for a relative weakening in Nevada. With the exception of Rasmussen, the post-DNC polling suggests Obama holds a 6 or a 7 point lead in Iowa--even larger than his advantage in Ohio. If this is ultimately confirmed by other surveys, then Obama’s easiest route might have switched from WI+NV+OH to WI+IA+OH. Either way, Romney still needs to contest Ohio.

Caveat: there is, of course, the possibility that the polls are understating Obama’s strength in Nevada. In 2008 and 2004, the RCP average underestimated the Democratic presidential candidate by a net-5.9 and 3.7 points respectively. In 2010, the polls missed the Senate contest by even more—Reid out-performed by the final polls by a net-8.3 points. If the polls understate Obama to a similar extent in 2012, he would hold a very clear lead in the Silver State. We’ll just have to wait until Election Day. 

In the opposite corner of the country, two polls showed Obama with more than 50 percent in New Hampshire. Now that Obama’s easiest route to victory seems to run through Ohio and Obama looks decent in Wisconsin, New Hampshire’s four electorate votes are much less likely to prove decisive than they were a few months ago. Still, if Obama’s position in Ohio or Wisconsin deteriorates, there are situations where New Hampshire could make a difference.

North Carolina, on the other hand, is a state where Obama looks well positioned, at least with respect to low expectations from the national punditry. Obama leads with at least 48 percent of the popular vote in every non-Rasmussen poll since the conclusion of the Democratic convention. North Carolina is essentially a turnout contest; there are an unusually small number of persuadable voters in a state dominated by college educated northern transplants, white evangelicals, and African Americans. So if Obama’s holding about 48 percent of the vote, he’s probably going to stay within striking distance through Election Day. Election analysts might never conclude that Obama’s the outright favorite in North Carolina, but he’s close enough that a strong turnout could easily provide him with another narrow win in the Tar Heel state. Certainly, the most recent wave of polling is consistent with an Obama victory, at least if the election were held today.

The national polling continues to point toward a modest Obama lead of around 5 points, although today's RAND American Life Panel gave Obama his largest lead of the campaign. The Fox News poll isn’t especially significant in it’s own right, but it represents the first national survey to conduct a second poll after the DNC, so a persistent 5 point lead for Obama helps confirm that the bounce has become a bump.