In the Washington Post-ABC News poll and the Battleground Poll, both of which show a race within the margin of error nationally and with President Obama under 50 percent, Mitt Romney supporters will find confirmation that the contest’s dynamics have changed very little, if at all, since the summer. The dramatic ups and downs in August and September seem to be a wash.
But wait, is the race still in the bag for Obama, as some would have you believe?
You’ve got to get deep into the weeds to tell what is going on. The Washington Post-ABC pollsters tell us that “52 percent of likely voters across swing states side with Obama and 41 percent with Romney in the new national poll.” But without the proper context, readers may jump to an incorrect conclusion when they see that figure, concluding that Obama is home-free in swing states. As I learned from Post pollster Jon Cohen, that finding is based on the responses of a total of 160 people, and it has a margin of error of 8 percentage points. So yes, there may be a difference between swing-state and national numbers, but the gap might be very small or it might be big.
Moreover, the swing-state votes aren’t aggregated. You need to look at each one separately. The presidential contest is a race to 270 electoral votes. So the true battleground states (sorry, that doesn’t mean Michigan or Pennsylvania) are where things will matter.
The Obama team and its dutiful media spinners were emphatic for a week or so that the race had been blown open. Now they will point to the gap between national and swing-state polling. But really how large is that. Look at the Virginia polling. Is the margin there two points or eight points? In Ohio, is the margin one, nine or four points? Take your pick.
The state polling in September, if you will pardon the expression, was all over the map. It is easy for partisans to take great comfort or become despondent based on relatively little and very shaky data. Since both sides are pounding away with ads and making frequent appearances in the same states, it’s a good bet the race is within the margin of error in Ohio, Virginia and a handful of other critical states.
So what do we really know? Obama is doing worse, much worse in some cases, in every swing state than he did in 2008. Consider that he won Colorado in 2008 by nine points, Wisconsin by almost 14 points and Nevada by 12.5 percent.. So it’s not 2008. Obama is doing worse than four years ago. Romney is doing much better than Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
But that’s about all we know for certain. The race is close, the key states are still the key states. And despite the best efforts of the Obama team and its media spinners, the race is up for grabs. It’s not a compelling narrative for the partisans on each side, but it is accurate.