With just 12 days to go, every day without signs of Romney making gains in Ohio, Wisconsin, or Nevada counts as a win for the president. Obama has held a persistent lead in all three states and could combine to provide the president with 271 electoral votes, enough to win reelection.
New SurveyUSA and Time polls showed Obama maintaining a 3 to 5 point edge in the critical state of Ohio, roughly consistent with Obama’s lead in similar polls conducting live interviews with cell phone-only voters. Rasmussen showed a tied race (down one point from the Obama lead they’ve shown since August) but it’s hard to make much of a one-point movement. Both PPP and Rasmussen showed Obama at or above 50 percent in Nevada, and Mason Dixon showed Obama up by 2 points in Wisconsin. That's one of Obama’s weakest results in the Badger State, but it comes from a firm that has tended to produce Republican-leaning results (recently including Romney+7 in Florida).
While all three states are close, Obama’s advantage in all three states is unusually consistent and quite clear. In fact, there’s a case that Obama has never trailed in any of them, even when Obama couldn’t buy a lead in a national telephone survey for a whole week following the first presidential debate. Romney could only manage one point leads in three Republican-leaning polls of Ohio conducted over the weekend immediately following the first presidential debate, while plenty of other polls showed Obama retaining a lead. In Wisconsin, Obama has hit or exceeded 49 percent in just about every survey since the Walker recall and Obama only trailed in two polls conducted immediately after Ryan was selected as his running mate. Obama’s lead is even more consistent in Nevada, where Romney hasn’t led in a single poll deemed worthy of the RCP average (although he did trail in a partisan poll). For historical comparison, check out the RCP averages from 2004 in Florida and Ohio.
And Obama maintains credible alternatives if any of these states flip over the next twelve days. If Romney won Nevada, Obama could easily counter with Iowa, although the state is somewhat under-polled. If Obama lost Wisconsin, he could compensate with both Iowa and New Hampshire. And even if Obama lost Ohio, Romney would still need to block Obama’s paths through Colorado, Virginia, and Florida. Romney would probably lose the election if Obama carried Colorado or Virginia, but the two states are coin-flips and three polls (admittedly partisan or of middling quality) from yesterday showed Obama leading in the Commonwealth. Romney more clearly leads in Florida, but his advantage in the Sunshine State isn’t any larger than Obama’s in Ohio. Here’s one stark hypothetical: given Obama’s many paths to 270, there’s a case that Obama would still be a favorite, if Romney was suddenly assured of victory in Ohio.
The national polls continue to show a tight race and are cause for real pause. Yes, the state polls have trumped the national polls before, but many of the national surveys are conducted by stronger polling firms with more rigorous methods than the cheap surveys that swarm the battleground states. Pollsters have exhibited strong house effects so far this cycle and there aren’t many state polling firms, making it harder to differentiate, say, Marist’s house effect from methodological differences with automated surveys. Put differently: wouldn’t you really like to know whether the NBC/WSJ national pollsters would show results similar to NBC/WSJ/Marist? But every time an additional pollster contacting cell-phones weighs-in on Ohio and shows Obama leading by 3 or 5 points, like CNN, Fox News, SurveyUSA, and Time have since the first debate, it becomes more clear that the Obama’s modest advantage in Ohio isn’t just due to a few Obama-friendly state pollsters.
Perhaps the best news for Romney is that Obama is still beneath 49 percent in the Buckeye State, where Obama is swimming upstream against a traditional Republican-lean and unfavorable demographics. But even if Romney has a path to victory in Ohio, he’s starting to run out of time. Every day without a shift in Ohio, Wisconsin, or Nevada is a day lost in his pursuit of the presidency.