ELECTIONATE NOVEMBER 4, 2012
After a day of surveys from an irregular set of pollsters, the big picture remains unchanged but there are plenty of details to talk about.
Let's start with the Susquehanna poll of Pennsylvania, which is sure to catch fire as supposed confirmation of a tight race in the Keystone State. Folks should perk up if other polls start showing a tight race, but this poll just doesn't justify the attention that it is sure to receive. When other pollsters showed Obama leading Pennsylvania by nearly 10 points in September, Susquehanna showed Obama ahead by just 2 points. And after the first presidential debate, Susquehanna showed Romney ahead by 4 points in a private survey provided to the Washington Times. As a result, a tied race in Susquehanna is not unusual, it is not evidence of movement in Romney's direction, and it is insufficient to prove that Romney is ahead.
Next, let's consider the Columbus Dispatch survey in Ohio, which shows Obama ahead by 2 points, 50-48. The Columbus Dispatch poll is consistent with the average of recent polls in the Buckeye State, but it is conducted entirely by mail. The poll has a decent but imperfect track-record, so adding a poll with a unique methodology to the available data on Ohio should add more confidence in an Obama lead than a similar result from another random pollster doing all the same things as the other polls. Although it's unclear whether this is significant, one consequence of a mail poll is that it stretches back a little earlier--to October 24. The other interesting poll of Ohio came from Pulse Opinion Research/Let Freedom Ring (R). After showing Romney ahead by 1 point in Ohio in a poll released on October 22nd, POR/LOR now shows Obama up 2. The only poll showing Romney ahead in Ohio is from Wenzel Strategies, a Republican firm.
The University of New Hampshire found a tied race in their own state, which represents a substantial decline from their last poll showing Obama up 9. The UNH/WMUR surveys have been a little volatile this fall (ranging from Obama+15 to a tie since the DNC), but the big picture is that New Hampshire is probably the closest Kerry state. On average, Obama leads by just 1.6 points in the Granite State, but the polls range from a Rasmussen poll showing Romney ahead by 2 to a New England College poll showing Obama ahead by 6. Given the recent polls, the state's demographics, Romney's regional advantage, and its large number of independent voters, New Hampshire seems like one of Romney's best pick-up opportunities. The problem for Boston is that New Hampshire isn't especially important to the electoral math, at least so long as Obama's easiest route to victory goes through Ohio. However, there are two somewhat plausible in which New Hampshire can make the difference: a Romney win in Wisconsin and New Hampshire would overcome a defeat in Ohio, provided that Romney swept Colorado, Virginia, and Florida; a Romney win in New Hampshire can block Obama's so-called "western" path to victory through Colorado, Nevada, and Iowa.
Whether New Hampshire or Colorado is the weakest link in the "western route" is tough to say. But there's not much question that Obama is better positioned in Iowa than those two states. The vaunted Seltzer/Des Moines Register poll showed Obama ahead by 5 points, 47-42. The Seltzer poll is an excellent survey, but Seltzer's work is treated with such high regard that you get the sense people would take 1:1 odds on Seltzer results versus the field. While Seltzer has excellent achievements (like the '08 Iowa Caucus and Indiana), it's worth recalling that Seltzer showed Kerry winning Iowa by 3 and Obama winning by 16 in the general election. Nonetheless, the Seltzer poll is consistent with the balance of polling in Iowa, which now shows Obama ahead 48.4 to 45.3.