After a week of slamming the President’s debate performance, questioning the validity of the latest data showing a dramatic improvement in the unemployment rate, and an echo chamber of breathless announcements of how "Romney is gaining momentum" or "Obama's lead is declining", the REALITY is that the electoral map still looks terrible for Mitt Romney. With only 26 days to go, he is behind in nearly every vital state. Ohio still looks very tough to win and New Hampshire, once a possibility, looks very bleak.
Today’s NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll of three of the most important battleground states, show the following according NBC’s Chuck Todd:
it (the race) changed at the margins -- but not substantially. A week ago, right before the debate, our NBC/WSJ/Marist poll of Florida had President Obama with a one-point lead among likely voters, 47%-46%; now it is still one point, 48%-47%. In Ohio, Obama was ahead by eight points; now it is by six, 51%-45%. And in Virginia, Obama had a two-point edge last week, 48%-46%; now it is Romney by one, 48%-47%. So our poll shows some improvement for the GOP presidential nominee, but we seem to be back to where we were before the conventions: It's a very close race with Obama still enjoying a structural edge in the battleground states. And why was there only a little change in these surveys -- conducted Oct. 7-9 -- since last week’s debate? These numbers probably tell the story: More than 90% of the likely voters in these three states say they made up their minds BEFORE the debate. Here is a question to be asked: Is Romney over-performing in national polls and under-performing in the battlegrounds? Sure seems like it.
Before the debate Romney was polling at 43-45%, well below even McCain. His natural base level of support is probably 47-48%, and my guess is the national polls will converge to that number in the next few weeks. President Obama will simply win by a smaller margin. Not great (especially for downticket congressional races but should still be enough to help in some Senate contests), but also far from the end of the world.
I tend to take the middle road--I think some of Romney's bounce will recede (as bounces usually do), but his numbers will remain better than pre-debate simply because he galvanized some of his softer support...and that was bound to happen sooner or later than anyway.
The key is whether he starts breaking into 49-50%. If he does that, in multiple polls over multiple days, only then can we say that Romney is the favorite to win. That hasn’t happened in more than two years and (with improved economic numbers and a better debate showing by the President on the 16th) I would not expect to see that happen in the last 26 days.