Despite the (comparably) modest sample size, the trajectory of today's numbers are pretty unmistakeable. This was, on balance, the worst polling day for Mitt Romney since the heady days (for Democrats, at least) of mid-to-late September. Not only did all the old "battleground" states come in a little weaker for him than recent polling averages would indicate, a couple of them (Ohio, Iowa, and Wisconsin) came in significantly worse.
What's more: the one state where he did get some halfway decent data yesterday (Michigan) betrayed him today, as a new poll there shows the state quite a bit more comfortable for him than yesterday's Glengariff poll suggested.
Meanwhile, in the community of election junkies, much breath and ink has been spilled on what appears to be a conscious effort on the part of the Romney campaign to "expand" the political map with forays into places like Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Michigan.
Republicans say that they have legitimate prospects in a number of states that have long been conceded to President Obama. Democrats argue that these states are still a pipe dream, and that this "expansion" is one part head fake, one part concession that Romney's prospects in the "battlegrounds" are not as strong as advertised.
Today, I'll explore the possibility that both of these arguments could easily be correct.
More on that after the jump. For now, though, on to the numbers:
NATIONAL (ABC/WaPo Tracking): Obama 49, Romney 49DOWNBALLOT POLLING:
NATIONAL (Fox News): Obama 46, Romney 46 (LV); Obama 46, Romney 45 (RV)
NATIONAL (Ipsos/Reuters Tracking): Obama 47, Romney 46 (LV); Obama 47, Romney 43 (RV)
NATIONAL (National Journal/United Technologies): Obama 50, Romney 45
NATIONAL (Rasmussen Tracking): Romney 49, Obama 47
NATIONAL (UPI/CVoter): Obama 48, Romney 48
NATIONAL (YouGov): Obama 48, Romney 47 (LV); Obama 48, Romney 46 (RV)
COLORADO (Ipsos-Reuters): Romney 46, Obama 45
COLORADO (We Ask America--R): Obama 50, Romney 47
FLORIDA (CBS News/Quinnipiac): Obama 48, Romney 47
FLORIDA (Gravis--R): Romney 50, Obama 47
FLORIDA (Ipsos-Reuters): Obama 47, Romney 47
FLORIDA (Mellman Group--D): Obama 49, Romney 47
FLORIDA (We Ask America--R): Romney 50, Obama 49
ILLINOIS (We Ask America--R): Obama 57, Romney 41
INDIANA (McLaughlin and Associates for the Mourdock campaign): Romney 57, Obama 39
IOWA (PPP for HCAN): Obama 50, Romney 45
IOWA (Univ. of Iowa): Romney 45, Obama 44
IOWA (We Ask America--R): Obama 49, Romney 47
MASSACHUSETTS (Rasmussen): Obama 59, Romney 40
MICHIGAN (EPIC-MRA): Obama 48, Romney 42
MICHIGAN (Glengariff Group): Obama 48, Romney 45
MISSOURI (We Ask America--R): Romney 54, Obama 42
NEBRASKA (Gravis--R): Romney 61, Obama 39
NORTH CAROLINA (PPP): Obama 49, Romney 49
OHIO (CBS News/Quinnipiac): Obama 50, Romney 45
OHIO (Ipsos-Reuters): Obama 48, Romney 45
OHIO (PPP for HCAN): Obama 50, Romney 45
OHIO (Univ. of Cincinnati): Obama 48, Romney 46
PENNSYLVANIA (Franklin and Marshall): Obama 49, Romney 45 (LV); Obama 48, Romney 44 (RV)
VIRGINIA (CBS News/Quinnipiac): Obama 49, Romney 47
VIRGINIA (Ipsos-Reuters): Obama 48, Romney 46
VIRGINIA (Roanoke College): Romney 46, Obama 41
WISCONSIN (Marquette Law School): Obama 51, Romney 43 (LV); Obama 51, Romney 42 (RV)
WISCONSIN (PPP for HCAN): Obama 51, Romney 46
FL-SEN (CBS News/Quinnipiac): Sen. Bill Nelson (D) 52, Connie Mack IV (R) 39A few thoughts, as always, await you just past the jump ...
FL-SEN (Gravis--R): Sen. Bill Nelson (D) 49, Connie Mack IV (R) 46
FL-SEN (Ipsos-Reuters): Sen. Bill Nelson (D) 52, Connie Mack IV (R) 42
IN-SEN (Clarity Campaigns for the DGA): Joe Donnelly (D) 49, Richard Mourdock (R) 42
IN-SEN (Global Strategy Group for the Donnelly campaign): Joe Donnelly (D) 43, Richard Mourdock (R) 36, Andy Horning (L) 9
IN-SEN (McLaughlin and Associates for the Mourdock campaign): Richard Mourdock (R) 45, Joe Donnelly (D) 44, Andy Horning (L) 4
MI-SEN (EPIC-MRA): Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) 54, Pete Hoekstra (R) 33
MI-SEN (Glengariff Group): Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) 52, Pete Hoekstra (R) 38
MO-SEN (We Ask America--R): Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) 49, Todd Akin (R) 45, Jonathan Dine (L) 6
NE-SEN (Gravis--R): Deb Fischer (R) 56, Bob Kerrey (D) 44
NV-SEN (SurveyUSA): Sen. Dean Heller (R) 46, Shelley Berkley (D) 40, David VanderBeek (IAP) 6
OH-SEN (CBS News/Quinnipiac): Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) 51, Josh Mandel (R) 42
OH-SEN (Ipsos-Reuters): Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) 49, Josh Mandel (R) 41
OH-SEN (Rasmussen): Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) 50, Josh Mandel (R) 48
OH-SEN (Univ. of Cincinnati): Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) 49, Josh Mandel (R) 44
PA-SEN (Franklin and Marshall): Sen. Bob Casey (D) 48, Tom Smith (R) 39 (LV); Sen. Bob Casey (D) 46, Tom Smith (R) 35 (RV)
RI-SEN (Fleming and Associates): Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (R) 55, Barry Hinckley (D) 33
VA-SEN (CBS News/Quinnipiac): Tim Kaine (D) 50, George Allen (R) 46
VA-SEN (Roanoke College): George Allen (R) 47, Tim Kaine (D) 42
WI-SEN (Feldman Group for the Baldwin campaign): Tammy Baldwin (D) 48, Tommy Thompson (R) 45
WI-SEN (Marquette Law School): Tammy Baldwin (D) 47 Tommy Thompson (R) 43 (LV); Tammy Baldwin (D) 46, Tommy Thompson (R) 42 (RV)
IN-GOV (Clarity Campaigns for the DGA): Mike Pence (R) 47, John Gregg (D) 44
IN-GOV (The Polling Company for the Pence campaign): Mike Pence (R) 46, John Gregg (D) 37, Rupert Boneham (L) 5
NC-GOV (PPP): Pat McCrory (R) 50, Walter Dalton (D) 39, Barbara Howe (L) 4
ND-GOV (Mason Dixon): Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R) 62, Ryan Taylor (D) 28
NE-02 (Gravis--R): Rep. Lee Terry (R) 57, John Ewing (D) 43
RI-02 (Fleming and Associates): Rep. Jim Langevin (D) 48, Michael Riley (R) 31, Abel Collins (I) 9
First, before we get into the extended discussion of "the map", let's stipulate one thing: if today's polling data at the state-by-state level is even close to being on the fairway, any discussion of the "map" may well be rendered academic. To put it another way, if Mitt Romney is really down 5-8 in Wisconsin, down 2-5 in Ohio, and also down in Colorado, it is vaya con dios for Romney's presidential ambitions. And that's not even counting Iowa and Virginia, where a couple of older, bad polls are pretty much on an island keeping Romney in the lead.
That said, there has been much talk about the Romney campaign, and their affiliated benefactors, making late moves into states that have largely been ignored in the 2012 cycle thus far. If you buy stock in Team Romney's spin, this is an effort to "expand the map" as we head into Election Day. If you buy Team Obama's counterargument, this is a desperate attempt for a losing campaign to find some way to make it to 270 electoral votes.
But what if they're both right? It is a far more realistic possibility than you might think.
Four examples, three of which have become common in the "map expansion" discussion, stand out: Michigan, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania (along with one not mentioned in targeting discussions: Oregon). Obama carried that quartet by double-digit margins in 2008. But all of those states were reasonably close in either 2000, 2004, or both. Heck, we tend to forget, but Oregon was one of the closest states in the union in 2000.
Therefore, "map expansion" discussions are not crazy for Team Romney to have. There are a number of "blue states" that have gone Democratic the past 3-4 presidential elections that are only marginally favorable to the Democrats. The four states already named would be the best examples of those types of "marginal" blue states in every recent election except for 2008.
Conversely, there are fewer "red states" that meet that criteria (Arizona probably comes closest). Or, more properly understood, that are fewer nominally "red states" from 10 years ago that aren't already competitive, if not blue-trending. Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida immediately come to mind, with Colorado not far behind (reminder: Bob Dole carried Colorado).
Therefore, as the national polling picture tightened this cycle, it should not necessarily shock anyone that the aforementioned quartet of "softer" blue states have swung back to the single digits. And, since virtually no one was talking about them at the start of the cycle, they become a very tempting target for Team Romney.
But, adding a few states to the target list should not be construed as Team Romney seizing an opportunity to translate their "momentum" into a larger "victory" margin.
The bottom line is that Weaver is not far off here. Today's polls in the battlegrounds underscored a basic point that I alluded to yesterday, which was that Mitt Romney needed some momentum (real momentum, not the kind spun by flacks citing two-week old polls) to get anywhere near 270 electoral votes by virtue of what have been defined as the true "battleground states".
One of the most underreported stories of the 2012 cycle has been, despite all of the twists and turns of the campaign, how little the battlegrounds have moved. Only a handful of GOP polls, out of the 100+ taken this Fall, have given Mitt Romney an edge in Ohio. Florida and Colorado have smelled like toss-ups all along, with little variation in the numbers.
With little ability to shake the hardening state of play in those battleground states, it actually makes sense for Romney to take a flyer on some states that, according to the polls, are only 2-5 points worse for him than he currently rests in the key "battlegrounds". Especially since persuasion might be better suited to states that have not been inundated with a gazillion ads on the teevee since August.
But make no mistake. This is not an action Romney is taking because things are going so well in the battlegrounds. It is an action he is taking because, relatively speaking, he might have a better shot in the non-battlegrounds than he does in the battlegrounds.
It is one of those rare moments in politics where both narratives are correct. Indeed, Romney could forge a path to 270 through Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota, as his campaign alleges. None of those states are completely locked down for the president (though, it has to be noted, the idea of him winning states that John Kerry and Al Gore won seems...shall we say...remote).
However, team Obama is 100 percent correct when they say that this late charge is a move not borne of confidence, but of desperation. All of Romney's best (and worst) efforts have been unable to move the needle in the Ohio's, Nevada's, and Virginia's of the world. Taking a shot at some new turf is all he's got left. The fact that it is very much a "hail mary" pass should be lost on no one.
In other polling news...
- Two polls out today have their own dangerous levels of "ugh" in them today. The Univ. of Iowa poll, for example, sampled just over 300 people. And took over a week to do it. That is simply unsound, but it's what you get when presidential polling is done essentially as a college class project (attention, Unskewers, I said the same thing about a VA poll showing Obama +7). In a similar vein, my beef with the Roanoke poll in Virginia (which at least has a track record) is how far away it is from all other recent polling. Singiser's First Rule of poll analysis comes into play with this one: if you have one result, and everyone else has something else, it is unlikely that everyone else is wrong.
- The resident polling dude at The Guardian, Harry Enten, is always worth a read, no matter your partisan persuasion. Today, he took a solid look at some of the burning questions in the world of polling that will be answered in six short days. Be sure to check it out.
- Speaking of worthy reads, two different poll analysts have separate takes on the issue of whether or not we are in line for a popular vote/electoral vote split in less than a week. Feel free to click on the thoughts of both RCP's Sean Trende and WaPo's Jonathan Bernstein. Properly inspired, I will be offering my own thoughts on the question during the Thursday edition of the Polling Wrap (now, that's a teaser!).