Election Watch: Obama Keeps Edge With Swing State Voters

By / 10.1.2012

The President’s modest but wide-ranging lead in most national and battleground state polls is no longer dismissible as a post-convention “bounce,” and is beginning to engender some serious concern in Republican circles. NBC’s First Read has a useful summary of that network’s own polling:

We’ve now released nine battleground state NBC/WSJ/Marist polls in the last three weeks, and what have we learned? President Obama is ahead of Mitt Romney in all nine, with his biggest leads being 7 and 8 points (in Ohio, New Hampshire, and Iowa) and his smallest edge at 2 points (in Nevada and North Carolina). Obama’s average percentage in these polls is 49.5% and Romney’s is 44% — which is consistent with the national polls (see below). Our state surveys also show a slight improvement in voters who believe that the nation is headed in the right direction. And they find Obama and Romney essentially tied on who would better handle the economy, while Obama mostly enjoys double-digit leads on foreign policy.

Republican reactions to these numbers have fallen into three categories. Some express no particular concerns, suggesting it remains a close race where some combination of heavy pro-Romney, anti-Obama advertising, better-than-expected debate performances, and a general realization of the incumbent’s “failure” could easily turn things around. Others are more concerned, and are offering various ideas for a Romney “comeback,” ranging from a harshly conservative comparative assault on the president (with loud-and-proud association of the ticket with the Ryan Budget and other provocative policies) to highly targeted voter appeals. And still others are attacking with considerable ferocity the accuracy of polls (other than those from the reliably pro-GOP Rasmussen firm), arguing either deliberate bias or skewed 2008-based samples, or both.

For the record, the polling-bias arguments seem mostly based on the argument that partisan divisions in the electorate resemble those of 2010 more than those of 2008, meaning that results should be “re-weighted” to create a more balanced sample. This claim appears to ignore (a) differences between midterm and presidential turnout patterns; (b) the tendency of a significant number of Tea Party activists to self-identify as independents rather than Republicans, which reduces the size of the latter category while skewing the former in a more conservative direction; and (c) the steady but nearly complete elimination of the “enthusiasm gap” that benefitted Republicans in 2010 and (until recently) ever since.

In-person early voting began in Iowa yesterday, and heavy Obama campaign investment in GOTV resources plus the desire to “bank” votes in a relatively positive phase of the campaign are generating a lot of buzz about the Democratic domination of initial early voting.

Downballot, Todd Akin’s game of “chicken” with national and state GOP leaders ended successfully as the deadline passed for his removal from the general election ballot. He’s already been endorsed by his would-be Senate colleague Roy Blunt, (R-Mo.). Nationally, Jim DeMint, (R-S.C.), (whose Senate Conservative Fund is certain to give his the financial support he has so far been denied by the NRSC and the major partisan “outside” groups) and Rick Santorum quickly got on board. It’s likely other Republicans will come around if he closes the current polling gap enjoyed by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). The other major development in Senate contests was the appearance of a video in which Wisconsin GOP candidate Tommy Thompson told a Tea Party group back in June that he’d be the perfect candidate to lead an effort to kill off Medicare and Medicaid. Thompson was already suffering a slide in the polls against Rep. Tammy Baldwin, and is in danger of slipping off the list of competitive candidates as GOP groups choose where to spend their money down the stretch.

The first presidential debate will dominate next week’s national political chatter, despite considerable evidence from political scientists that general election presidential candidate debates have rarely had a big impact on results.

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