A new National Journal/Heartland Monitor Poll out this morning finds Obama leading Mitt Romney nationally by 50-43 among likely voters. The poll probes voter attitudes towards the economy in a very interesting way that really explains why Obama may be winning re-election.

The key takeaway is the poll’s confirmation that Romney’s theory of the race — which is built on the “are you better off” question — seems to be flawed, as I’ve repeated far too often. Ron Brownstein explains:

The survey also shows why it may be difficult for Republicans to center the election on the famous Ronald Reagan question to voters that the party highlighted at its national convention last month: Are you better off than you were four years ago?

That question divides likely voters almost exactly in thirds: in the poll, 31 percent say they are better off than four years ago, while 34 percent say they are worse off and 34 percent say they are about the same. Romney, predictably, wins more than four-fifths of voters who say they are worse off; the president, equally unsurprisingly, attracts almost nine in 10 of those who consider themselves better off.

Crucially, though, Obama holds a commanding 57 percent to 34 percent advantage among those who say their finances are unchanged. One reason for that critical tilt in his direction: Voters who say their finances are unchanged also say, by a resounding 53 percent to 33 percent margin, that they believe the country has been better off over these past four years because Obama, rather than another candidate, won in 2008. Overall, 48 percent say they believe the country is better off because Obama won in 2008, while 41 percent say the nation would be in a stronger position today if another candidate had won.

A majority of those who say they remain financially stagnant still support Obama and say the country overall is better off because of his presidency. People are just not holding Obama responsible for our economic woes in the manner Romney had hoped. There’s also this:

In a related finding, 47 percent of likely voters said they believed Obama’s economic policies helped “avoid an even worse economic crisis and are laying the foundation for our eventual economic recovery.” By contrast, 45 percent said that his agenda has “run up a record federal deficit while failing to end the recession or slow the record pace of job losses.”

Republicans sneer when Dems argue that things could have been worse and are on track to get better later. And it’s a difficult argument to make. But the voters that count just may prove willing to accept this case. Perhaps they are being realistic about the severity of the crisis and depth of our problems, are willing to give Obama more time to fix them, and are concluding Romney doesn’t have any answers of his own. Romney’s initial calculation seemed to be that voters have concluded Obama was such a resounding failure that all he had to do was show up with a smile on his face to win the presidency. That hasn’t worked, however, which is why he’s now attacking Obama over anything he can lay his hands on, no matter how trivial or absurd.

The economy remains a millstone for Obama, and there’s a long way to go. But for now, voter thinking about the economy and the Obama presidency simply isn’t following Romney’s script. It may be tracking more with Obama’s framing of the race, which was forcefully established in Bill Clinton’s convention speech and is being amplified by heavy advertising in the swing states.

* Is GOP set to cave on taxes? The Post has an important report: Senior Republicans are conceding that if Obama wins reelection, they will have to drop their opposition to tax hikes for the wealthy when the “fiscal cliff” talks begin in earnest.

I don’t know if they are really prepared to back down, and if they do, it would surely require other concessions from Dems. But this gives the Obama camp a good argument. He has claimed winning reelection will break the GOP’s unwillingness to compromise on solving our fiscal problems — the main sticking point remains what tax rate the rich will pay — and senior Republicans seem to be confirming this.

* Romney expected to be winning by now: The New York Times has an epic look at the “daunting” path Romney faces, including this:

The state-by-state landscape facing Mr. Romney is more daunting than he expected by this stage in the contest. He anticipated, aides said, to be in a position of strength in at least some of the states that turned Democratic in 2008 for the first time in a generation, but few of them show signs of breaking decisively his way, and Mr. Obama still has more and clearer paths to 270 electoral votes.

The endless comparisons to 1980 are all about creating a theory of the race that explains why Romney — unexpectedly — isn’t winning yet.

* Keep an eye on Romney’s “Mr. Fix-It” image: Jill Lawrence fleshes out a point that really deserves more attention: “It’s hard to imagine a worse argument for competence than the Romney campaign’s performance over the past few months.”

As I reported here recently, Dems are closely watching to see if Romney’s gaffes and campaign misfires are eroding perceptions of his managerial competence and leadership qualities.

* Romney campaign continues hitting “inside” comments: Judging from the press release just out from the Romney campaign, it will center its message on Obama’s comment that change comes from outside DC:

Yesterday, President Obama said the most important lesson he’s learned is that ‘you can’t change Washington from the inside.’ The candidate of ‘yes, we can’ has become the president of ‘no, I can’t.’

My write up of yesterday’s non-troversy is here. We are now in McCain, Palin, and “lipstick on a pig” territory. Remember that one?

* Voters won’t care about “inside” comments: Steve Benen also has a good point-by-point breakdown of the absurdity of the Romney camp’s attack. This is right on: “are we supposed to believe the American mainstream will hear the president talk about meaningful political change coming from outside the Beltway and voters will recoil? They’ll find this observation ridiculous? Please.”

Seriously. Does anyone really believe voters will find this problematic?

* Romney’s path to victory is narrowing: Last night’s NBC/WSJ polls show Obama building leads in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Colorado, and the Journal explains why this could be a big deal:

The new poll results are significant in part because the Romney campaign views the three states as steppingstones to an Electoral College majority, given Mr. Romney’s slippage in polls of two of the largest battlegrounds, Ohio and Virginia.

* Scott Brown attacks "Professor Warren” at debate: A nice write-up of last night’s debate from E.J. Dionne. As he notes, Warren needs voters to look past Scott Brown’s likable image — which he may have damaged with his attacks on her heritage and credentials. (Apparently Senator Brown thinks academic achievement is a bad thing, or at least thinks voters are dumb enough to see it as such.)

Warren made Brown’s prioritizing of tax cuts for the rich and subsidies for Big Oil, and the need for Dem control of the Senate, central to her message, in an effort to nationalize the race. The key moment, from the point of view of the Warren camp, can be watched here.

* Obama campaign keeps hitting Romney over leaked video: The Obama campaign is out with a new Web video on Romney’s freeloading 47 percent remarks, this one featuring seniors on Social Security and Medicare taking umbrage at Romney’s suggestion that they are “victims.” The goal is to raise doubts about Romney’s commitment to the core mission of the programs by suggesting he doesn’t agree with the basic bargain at their core.

* And Gallup is alone in finding race tied: Nate Cohn continues to marvel at the degree to which Gallup’s finding of a tied presidential race is out of sync with virtually all other polling. Mark Blumenthal has theorized that the problem lies in the racial composition of its samples.

What else?