It’s getting close to Election Day, and perhaps it’s a good point to step back and assess where the presidential race is right now.
Despite some premature spiking of the football from those who favor Mitt Romney, the race remains very close and could easily go either way. But at even odds right now, it’s pretty clear that your money belongs on Barack Obama.
Let’s take a look. For the national vote, Huffington Post’s Pollster currently has it about as close as it can get, with Romney holding a 0.2 percent lead, and the trend line moving in Obama’s favor. (The lead is down from a peak of 0.6 percent on October 13 — note that Pollster’s numbers are trend lines, and will change retroactively when new information arrives). That’s the average I look at first, but to be complete about it: Real Clear Politics gives Obama a 0.1 lead, while Nate Silver’s “Nowcast” — which, unlike the others, allocates undecideds based on his program’s formula — has Obama leading by a full percentage point. So let’s call the national vote tied, but all three averages have been moving towards the president.
However, as much as I am encouraging everyone to look mainly to the national vote, the closer we get to election day the more individual state polling is useful in a very close race. And right now, it does appear from the state polls that Obama would probably win the electoral college if the national vote were tied on Election Day. That means Romney might have to win by one or maybe even two percentage points nationally in order to get the electoral college votes he needs. For example: Pollster (with a national virtual tie) has Obama in a clear, if narrow, electoral college lead. Romney is ahead in the Pollster state averages only in the states John McCain won in 2008 plus Indiana and North Carolina, and the candidates are tied in Florida (Romney + 0.5) and Virginia (Obama +0.1). What’s more, both Colorado and New Hampshire are very close, and even worse for Romney, he would have to win all four of those and something else in order to win the presidency.
Now, be careful; the polling averages do have a margin of error. And I remain skeptical that Obama’s electoral college advantage, relative to the national average, is as large as Pollster’s estimates find.
But if we look at forecasts, they too give Obama a small but real advantage. Nate Silver, for example, currently predicts a 1.5 percent national vote re-election; see also Drew Linzer and Sam Wang, both of whom project solid Obama wins. Could they be wrong? Of course! What they’re telling us, however, is that the current polling and other relevant data make Obama a more solid favorite than it would appear from the current very close national polling. And remember; the consensus of fundamentals-based predictions from political scientists and economists has been that Obama was a slim but real favorite as well (although several systems did predict a Romney win).
Bottom line: right now the candidates are dead even in the national vote, but it’s slightly trending towards Obama, perhaps beginning after the second debate or perhaps a bit before that. To the extent we can tell, the electoral college plays a bit better for Obama than it does for Romney, meaning that in a tie election overall it’s more likely that Obama wins. It’s a very close election, and no one should believe that it’s all over by any means. But there’s no question that I’d rather be in Obama’s position than in Romney’s going into the last debate and then the final weeks.