The month has changed but the race looks about the same.
Today's headlines (including this one!) will probably be driven by the ABC/Washington Post poll, which shows Obama leading by just 2 points among likely voters. This doesn't necessarily point toward tightening, since a 2 point lead actually represents a one point improvement for the president since their first poll following the DNC. If Obama leads by 5 points nationally, we might expect a few polls to fall consistently on either side, whether it’s Pew Research showing Obama up by 8, or ABC/Washington Post and Gallup on the other side. That said, Romney should still be encouraged by the presence of a strong polling firm on the side of a closer race.
Some Obama supporters itching for better news are focusing on the ABC/Washington Post poll's finding that Obama leads by 11 points in the battleground states. There have been hundreds of national and state polls conducted since the DNC, and they make it amply clear that there is not a clear difference between Obama's standing in the battleground states and the country as a whole; One battleground state subsample should not change that view. It's also important to note that the ABC/Washington Post polls are conducted by a different firm than the one responsible for last week's polls in Ohio, Virginia, and Florida.
Another somewhat encouraging result for Romney came from the vaunted Des Monies Register/Selzer poll, which showed Obama leading by just 4 points in Iowa. A 4-point Obama lead is actually smaller than the 6 point lead he held in a Bloomberg/Selzer national poll conducted last week, so there’s a case that the state hasn’t gotten out of hand for Romney—something Boston might have been concerned about after a wave of non-Rasmussen polls showed Obama leading by at least 6 or more points.
If PPP is still viewed as having a pervasive Obama-lean, than their results were also pretty good for Romney. PPP showed Obama with a slight 4-point lead in Ohio and a tied race in North Carolina, while other recent polls have shown a slightly better position for Obama in both states. That said, PPP’s results have closely tracked the averages for a couple of months now and I’m no longer inclined to interpret their results through the lens of the very Obama-leaning results they produced throughout the late spring and early summer.
Obama’s two best results came from the Washington Times/Zogby and the Columbus Dispatch poll, which showed Obama leading by 9 points both nationally and in Ohio. I am intrigued by the Columbus Dispatch poll, which is actually conducted by mail and has a decent (although not exceptional) track record. Even so, the Obama campaign would probably rather receive great news from a different pollster. The same holds true for Zogby, except without the intrigue or decent record.
While some can squint at the numbers and see faint hints of tightening, the big picture remains that Obama holds a modest lead nationally and across the battleground states. Romney is underperforming a bit in the polls, so the race will probably tighten if he can put in a strong performance. The ABC/Washington Post poll found that voters expect the president to prevail by a 56-29 margin, which might help Romney win those post-debate flash-polls if voter expectations color their assessment of the winner.