I thank Burt for bringing this up:
It’s worth bearing mind when we talk about things like “momentum” and “changing the dynamic” that since well before the conventions, Romney has never been projected to actually win. Very recently there have been a few isolated polls showing him with very narrow leads in the popular vote. But just as many recent polls give Obama narrow leads, too. And as we all know, where those voters are matters a lot. Not once have weighted polling averages put Obama behind in popular vote projections and not once has Romney been forecast to get a majority of votes in the electoral college.
I actually think that hinging predictions based on the state-by-state polls is a mistake. I’ve been meaning to write on this since Kazzy asked why we were even paying attention to the national polls. The answer to that question is that because the national polls get us the best look into the mood of the nation, and that mood most definitely filters down to the swing states.
After Romney had his bounce from the first debate, there was quite a bit of talk about how Obama was still winning the swing states and so it didn’t really matter. The swing states, however came around and it became a closer race there, too. According to Nate Silver, as of 10/12, the widest diversion between the Electoral College and National Popular vote totals was less than four percent. Memories of 2000 aside, crossed votes are an anomaly.
The state-by-state vote is worth keeping an eye on in the event of a really close election, but on the whole I would give them less reliability when gauging the dynamics and direction of the race. The national polls are ongoing by several organizations. Mood shifts are picked up more quickly there and we have more data with which to look from to see the changing dynamics. The state polls are more likely to be conducted by local news outfits and not on an ongoing basis. That’s one of the reasons that there is a lag.
In the history of voting, it’s just rare that you see national movement without seeing movement in the individual states. If you pick up voters nationally, you’re going to be picking them up in swing states. If the national popular vote is outside of 2% difference*, it becomes almost statistically impossible for the NPV loser to win. If Obama or Romney is ahead by less than 2%, as is often the case, it really becomes anybody’s guess in my view. Again, it’s worthwhile to look at the state polls, but I would definitely not be making any predictions based on them. The polls that have Obama up or down have margin of errors that usually extend beyond the 2% threshold.
Right this second, with most polls showing Romney or Obama ahead by a point or two, it’s anybody’s guess. But mostly for that reason, in my view, and not because of the state polls. If Obama pulls back some of that vote, it’ll still be his election to lose. But either way, I’d bet pretty good money that if Obama wins the EV, he will also have won the NPV (and vice-versa).
* – This is according to Silver and a college professor who more specifically said 2.2%. Had John Kerry pulled off Ohio, it would have been a far, far more remarkable event than 2000.