Nate Silver, guru of polling over at the NYT, reminds us to keep all of Mitt Romney‚Äôs recent polling momentum, post the grand debate, in perspective.
Romney Has a 28% Chance at Victory
Yes, Romney did well during the debate. And yes, it gave him a bump in the polls. So instead of a 13.9% chance of winning before that first debate, Romney now has a 28% chance of winning. That‚Äôs a good deal of orward momentum ‚Äď Nate estimates it as a post-debate bounce of 2.5% ‚Äď but the bounce may be fading now, and it wasn‚Äôt nearly enough to catch up to the President‚Äôs lead. A 28% chance of winning is still pretty lousy.
Nate feels that Obama still holds a slight lead nationwide:
First, is it really likely that Mr. Romney leads the race by 4 points right now? The consensus of the evidence, particularly the national tracking polls, would suggest otherwise. Instead, the forecast model‚Äôs conclusion is that the whole of the data is still consistent with a very narrow lead for Mr. Obama, albeit one that is considerably diminished since Denver.
The last thing to consider is that the fundamentals of the race aren‚Äôt consistent with a 4-point lead for Mr. Romney. Instead, the most recent economic numbers, and Mr. Obama‚Äôs approval ratings, would seem to point to an election in which he is the slight favorite. We don‚Äôt use approval ratings in our forecast, but we do use the economic data, and both the monthly payrolls report and the broader FiveThirtyEight economic index would point toward an election in which Mr. Obama is favored in the popular vote by around 2.5 percentage points.
How can the candidates be so close in the polls, yet so far apart in terms of their percent chance of winning? Because national polls don‚Äôt tell you much about how each candidate is faring in the various states. And, as we all learned far too well in 2000, you can win the national vote and lose the election by losing in the electoral college, i.e., losing in the states.
In Key Swing States, Obama Doing Better Than Romney
Let‚Äôs look at the key states that remain in play, via AP:
A month before Election Day, that means both candidates are concentrating their precious time and money in the handful of states that still seem to be competitive: Ohio, Florida, Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Virginia, North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin.
Now, state by state, Per Nate ‚Äď you can see that while things are close, only 1 of the 9 is going Romney‚Äôs way, while possibly 5 are going Obama‚Äôs:
North Carolina: Likely Romney
Iowa: Lean Obama
Ohio: Lean Obama
New Hampshire: Likely Obama
Nevada: Likely Obama
Wisconsin: Likely Obama
And here‚Äôs Politico‚Äôs take on the state of play in the swing states, and the total electoral vote count estimate:
Early Voting Puts Romney At A Disadvantage
Now, if Romney continues to do better in the national polls, you may seem the same effect percolate down to the key swing states. The question is ‚Äúis it enough,‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúis it in time.‚ÄĚ The first is obvious, the second deals with early voting. More from the National Conference of State Legislatures:
Two-thirds of the states‚Äď32, plus the District of Columbia‚Äďoffer some sort of early voting. Early voting allows voters to visit an election official‚Äôs office or, in some states, other satellite voting locations, and cast a vote in person without offering an excuse for why the voter is unable to vote on election day. Satellite voting locations vary by state, and may include other county and state offices (besides the election official‚Äôs office), grocery stores, shopping malls, schools, libraries, and other locations.
The time period for early voting varies from state to state:
The date on which early voting begins may be as early as 45 days before the election, or as late as the Friday before the election. The average starting time for early voting across all 32 states is 22 days before the election.
Early voting typically ends just a few days before Election Day: on the Thursday before the election in three states, the Friday before in nine states, the Saturday before in five states, and the Monday before Election Day in 11 states.
Early voting periods range in length from four days to 45 days; the average across all 32 states is 19 days.
At least 12 of the 32 early voting states require that early vote centers be open on at least one Saturday or Sunday during the early voting period. Others give county or local officials the authority to determine the hours for early voting.
So a lot of people are voting BEFORE election day. How many? Try a third of the electorate:
‚ÄúI am forecasting in this election cycle that about 35 percent of the vote will be cast before Election Day,‚ÄĚ George Mason University professor Michael McDonald, who researches early voting behavior, told TPM. ‚ÄúWe know 78 percent of all votes in Colorado were cast prior to Election Day in 2008, and it probably will be around 85 percent in 2012. The election will essentially be won or lost before Election Day unless it‚Äôs a tight, narrow, razor-thin margin.‚ÄĚ
Romney and Obama need to convince those voters long before November 6. NPR has more ‚Äď let‚Äôs look at a few of the swing states. I‚Äôve organized them by when early voting begins/began:
VA: Absentee voting and early in-person voting began Sept. 22.
IA: Early voting began Sept. 27.
OH: Early voting began Oct. 2.
NC: Absentee voting began Sept. 6, while early in-person voting begins Oct. 18.
NV: Absentee voting begins Oct. 17, while early in-person voting begins Oct. 20.
WI: Absentee voting began Sept. 20, while early in-person voting begins Oct. 22.
CO: Absentee voting begins Oct. 15, while early in-person voting begins Oct. 22.
FL: Absentee voting began Oct. 2, while early in-person voting begins Oct. 27.
NH: Absentee voting began Sept. 22.
So, in three of the swing states ‚Äď VA, IA and OH ‚Äď early voting has already begun. That means that either candidate‚Äôs momentum in the coming weeks could become increasingly less relevant as votes are already cast.
What a fun system we have.