Every day that goes by without a shift in Romney's direction or an event that could plausibly induce such a shift is a lost day for the Romney campaign. This isn’t about who wins the news cycle; whether Obama refers to Middle Eastern violence as a bump in the road doesn’t matter. It’s about events that could reshape one of the most stable races in modern electoral history. The race is likely tighten, if for no other reason than because Romney’s still short of 47 percent, which, in my view, is probably his floor given the president’s disapproval rating.
It's been apparent for a couple of months now that Mitt Romney has a real problem in Ohio, which is great news for Democrats—Mitt can't realistically afford a loss in the Buckeye State. But if you’ve been looking at the post-DNC polls in Ohio, you might think that Romney’s Ohio problem is a little overstated. Yes, he’s losing by about four points in the state, but he’s also losing by four points nationally.
Over the late summer, public surveys and articles citing internal campaign polling began to suggest that Romney had a real problem in Ohio. But since the DNC, Romney has a new and somewhat underreported problem—Virginia. Before the conventions, Obama held a slight 1.5 point edge among likely voters in Virginia. But since the DNC, Obama has jumped out to a 4.5 lead, slightly more than his 4 point lead in Ohio and nationally. For all the talk about Romney’s issues in Ohio, his position in Virginia could be even worse.
The big picture remains that Obama leads by around four points, with a similar edge across the critical battleground states. The poll most likely to scream “headline” is Gallup, which is so far out of line from the other registered voter surveys that I don’t even know what to say about it. Obama leads by about 7 points among registered voters, and, no, the methodological criticisms you’ve heard don’t explain a gap of that magnitude. As Harry Enten of the Guardian (@ForecasterEnten) tweeted today, we would probably blow this off as a clear outlier if it was named something other than Gallup.
The polls are a bit of a mess right now, but the sources of disagreement seem a little clearer today. A big polling duel might be shaping up for November: Gallup and Rasmussen v. World. Before delving into details, let's not forget that the big picture is quite clear. If we simply ignored trendlines or the characteristics of the firms, an average of polls would show Obama clearly ahead nationally, probably by about four points, and clearly ahead in the big East Coast battlegrounds by a similar margin. Would there be a relatively big spread in the polls?
Everyone should agree that Obama is a favorite to win reelection. The question is whether he’s simply a modest favorite or quite likely to prevail. The answer depends on the resilience of Obama’s bounce. If Obama enters the debates ahead by 4 points among likely voters, as he was immediately following the DNC, he'd be a very strong favorite.