No, this change is NOT due to Obama’s debate performance. There are not yet any state level polls that include time after the debate. We should have a few of those in a few days I’m sure. For now, this still represents what was happening pre-debate.
There was one change today, in what is currently the closest of the close states:
North Carolina has consistently been in the “close state” category all year long. It REALLY could easily go either way. With the latest data it moves from leaning just slightly Obama, to leaning just slightly Romney in the five poll average. Romney now leads by 0.8%.
Right now the next closest state is Florida, where Obama is ahead by 3.2% at the moment. If one argued that the 5% threshold I use for “close” is really too wide, you could easily conclude that North Carolina is actually the ONLY state where things are close at the moment. It really is right on the edge right now. Just about anything could move it one way or the other.
Regardless, as of right now, the five poll average has it back on Romney’s side of the line, where it has spent most of the last year. So, the new summary of the state of the race:
|Romney Best Case||250||288|
|Obama Best Case||191||347|
The “current” line, where everybody gets every state they are even slightly ahead in, now reverts to a 332 to 206 Obama win. This has been where it has been more often than anywhere else over the last year. Things have sometimes moved a little from this line in one direction or the other, but it always seems to come back here.
In that sense the race has been remarkably stable. Most of the discussion I’ve presented here has ended up reflecting changes to Romney’s “best case” where he wins all of the close states. But if we only look at who is actually ahead in each state… we’re usually at a 332 to 206 Obama win.
I’ve mentioned before, if I had to pick a final state of the race right now, putting all the red and blue states on the map above in their respective columns, then giving North Carolina to Romney, and Iowa, Colorado and Florida to Obama, seems like a very safe bet.
At the moment, even if you give Romney all four of these states, he still loses 250 to 288. He needs to take the lead in Iowa, Colorado and Florida, then start making some of the “Weak Obama” states close again.
Romney had a very strong performance in the first debate, and Obama had a very weak one. But will that make a difference here? Study after study have shown that historically the effect of debates is very small. There are just too many voters who have already made up their minds and nothing in any debate short of a complete meltdown by one of the candidates will change that. I think that is likely to be the case here too.
I would not be surprised to see some tightening. Some of the “Weak Obama” states are just barely in that category. They could easily move back into my “Lean Obama” category. But Romney needs very big moves to start actually moving states onto his side of the line. Not just a point or two. Florida needs more than a 3% shift to move to Romney. To get enough states back on his side with a uniform shift he has to move things more like 6% or 7%. That would be a huge move.
I don’t think you will see that kind of move coming out of this debate alone. It is much more likely that we’ll see a small move. I think Romney’s beginning of September position, which was a closer race, but one which Romney was still losing, represents a cap on the gains Romney is likely to make. It will be very hard to Romney to break through that ceiling.
But, if from now until election day, the electorate sees the bold confidant and actually somewhat centrist Romney they saw last night, and they continue to see the nervous, hesitant, submissive Obama they saw last night… then we may start to see a bigger shift than would come out of just the debate alone.
I think it is a pretty safe bet the Obama campaign will be doing everything they can to present a different Obama next time out though. He knows he screwed up, he knows what he screwed up, and it is mostly about optics rather than substance, so they will try to fix it.
It has been the situation for quite some time that there wasn’t a huge amount Romney could directly do to help his position in the race, but that Obama had plenty he could do to damage his own position. Obama made that kind of mistake last night. Romney now has an opening, and for almost the first time in this race, Obama is on defense.
Note: Chart and map from the Abulsme.com 2012 Electoral College Prediction page. Both assume Obama vs Romney with no strong third party candidate and show polling as it currently exists. Things will change before election day. On the map red is Romney, blue is Obama, gold states are too close to call. Lines on the chart represent how many more electoral votes a candidate would have than is needed to tie under several different scenarios. Up is good for Obama, Down is good for Romney.
Important note added 2012 Oct 5 16:36 UTC: Virginia should also have changed from Weak Obama to Lean Obama in this update. I had the polls. The numbers were there in my spreadsheet, I just completely failed to notice. I will be including the Virginia change in the Friday update and talking about it there.