Nate Silver assesses the current state of the race, and concludes that Obama has an edge in the electoral college:
The bad news for President Obama: it’s been almost a week since the second presidential debate, in Hempstead, N.Y., one that instant-reaction polls said was a narrow victory for him. But there is little sign that this has translated into a bounce for Mr. Obama in his head-to-head polls against Mitt Romney. Instead, the presidential race may have settled into a period of relative stability.
There is bad news for Mr. Romney as well, however. The “new normal” of the presidential campaign is considerably more favorable for him than the environment before the first debate, in Denver. However, it is one in which he still seems to be trailing, by perhaps 2 percentage points, in the states that are most vital in the Electoral College.
I’m no polling expert, but I think there’s a very simple and reasonable way for lay-people to assess who is currently winning the presidential race. Here goes: According to the consensus of the polling averages, which candidate is winning more than 270 electoral college votes?
This is not the same as asking who will win the race or who has momentum. It is simply: Who is winning right now?
I’m following four major polling averages right now that rigorously track all the national and state polls and average them together to paint a picture of the race at any given moment. They are conducted by Real Clear Politics, Pollster.com, Talking Points Memo, and Silver’s FiveThirtyEight. They vary in their methodology; Silver and Pollster.com blend state and national polls to reach conclusions about both the national and state-based horse race numbers, to compensate for the possibility that either national or state numbers have it right while the others have it wrong. For the sake of argument, let’s look at the consensus of what they all show.
So here goes. In the national averages calculated by RCP, Pollster.com, and TPM, the race is within one percentage point. Silver gives Obama a 1.1 point edge. This is consistent with the idea that the race remains a national dead heat, no matter what any one individual poll tells you.
What about the swing states? Here are the facts:
The above numbers put Obama well past 270. Even if you give Romney North Carolina and Florida and New Hampshire (which shows mixed averages), the averages are mostly tied in Virginia. The state polling averages just don’t put Romney at 270 right now — and what’s more, New Hampshire and Virginia are both in play for Obama, too.
Simply put, most of the available polling evidence, taken together, suggests a national dead heat, with a slight electoral college advantage for Obama.
I get all the objections to this. One is that bad or outdated polling can skew the averages. Fine, but those who are going to rely on a few polls they’ve decided are the more accurate ones — or are going to dictate a different time frame they say is appropriate — need to define their criteria for choosing these things. Averaging seems like the safest way to deal with the inaccuracies that inevitably pop up in all polls.
A second frequently heard objection is that all the above can be true even as Romney is the one with the momentum. That may be true, though like Silver, Mark Blumenthal, the creator of Pollster.com, thinks the national polls show that the race has stabilized.
That said, none of the above means that Obama will win, or that Romney won’t win. He very well may. But if you want a snapshot of who is winning at any given moment, the above approach seems like a reasonable one. Perhaps others have a better lay-person’s way of judging the race. If so, I’d like to hear it spelled out.