This presidential race remains a national dead heat, and Mitt Romney could still very well become our next president. But right at this moment, it needs to be reiterated that the state polling averages support the Obama campaign’s view of the state of the race — that Obama is currently on track to victory — and don’t support the Romney campaign’s view of the state of the race.
Here’s David Axelrod, giving Sam Stein his take on Romney’s post debate surge, and arguing that any Romney momentum has since stalled, leaving Obama with a lead in the electoral college:
“Governor Romney profited from that first debate primarily by recouping those voters who he had lost in his dismal month of September when they had such an uninspired convention and when the 47 percent tape came out,” Axelrod continued. “But that is all that happened. We’ve had two debates since. I haven’t seen — in the things that I have looked at — I haven’t seen momentum since that time. I think the race has settled in, and it has settled in with us with a small but durable and discernible lead in these battleground states both in the aggregate and individually. The question is how does he change that dynamic now? There is no big intervening event.”
The Romney campaign, by contrast, has argued that the race is tied in Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio and New Hampshire, that Romney is within a couple of points in Nevada, and that he is leading in Florida and Virginia.
Whether you believe the state polling averages or not, in an overall sense, they lend more support to the Obama camp’s interpretation of the current state of play. Let’s run through it again. As of this morning, the averages from Real Clear Politics, Pollster.com, and Talking Points Memo currently show Obama with leads of at least two points in Ohio, Wisconsin, Nevada, and Iowa. Some of the averages show slightly larger leads in the latter three.
Meanwhile, TPM and Pollster.com show the race within one point in Virginia; RCP has Romney’s lead at 1.2 points. TPM and Pollster.com show the spread within one point in Florida, and RCP shows Romney ahead by 1.8 points. In other words, according to the averages, the race is tighter in Virginia and Florida than it is in Ohio.
The picture these averages give us is that Obama has a small lead in four major battlegrounds — more than enough to put Obama past 270, if he wins them — while the race is tighter in two battlegrounds where Romney leads. Romney does have a sizable lead in North Carolina. What about Colorado? Two averages show Obama with a slight edge; one puts Romney up. So let’s call it a tie. New Hampshire is essentially tied in the aggregate of the averages, too.
For the sake of argument, let’s give the tied states to Romney. Here’s the basic state of things: If you give Romney all the states where he is leading or tied in the averages — Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado, New Hampshire — he is still short of 270. Meanwhile, if you give Obama just the states where he leads in the averages, he wins reelection.
What about the national polls? TPM and RCP averages put Romney’s national lead at one point. Pollster.com’s puts Obama slightly up. That’s consistent with a national dead heat. But even if we concede that Romney does hold a small national edge, the aggregates of the polling suggest — for now, at least — that this advantage is not enough to prevent Obama from holding enough of a lead in the electoral college to put him past 270.
Again, this does not mean Romney won’t win. And it does not mean Romney won’t take the lead between now and Election Day in these battleground averages. In fact, if the consensus of the state averages shows Romney edging into the lead in enough states to put him over 270, I’ll be the first to point it out.
But that hasn’t happened yet. Indeed, to my knowledge, it hasn’t happened once during the whole campaign.
UPDATE: I should add that Romney supporters argue that the national polls showing him up are right and that the state polling averages are wrong. Anything is possible! Perhaps they are wrong. But we obviously can’t know the truth on that one until November 6th.
UPDATE II: This just in from Nate Silver is relevant to the above: “State poll averages usually call election right.”