Presidential Polls Tightening As First Debate Nears

Presidential polls have shifted decidedly toward President Obama ever since the conclusion of the Democratic National Convention, and after a series of miscues from Mitt Romney’s campaign it appears the race is finally tightening again as the candidates prepare for the first debate on Wednesday.

Nate Silver, writer of the New York Times blog FiveThirtyEight, reported that several polls are showing a shift toward Romney in the past few days. The presidential polls still show Obama in the lead by an average of 3.5 percentage points, but Romney has cut into the lead.

Last week presidential polls showed Obama up by about 5 or 6 percentage points. Though the shift toward Romney is modest, within a point one way or the other, it shows positive movement for the GOP challenger after a month of brutal press.

Amid reports that his campaign is angering Republican insiders and prominent conservatives, Romney set himself back further with miscues like poorly timed criticism of the president’s handling of protests in Libya and the release of secretly taped comments where Romney appears to discount the “47 percent” of voters who pay no income tax.

Because of these devastating developments, Nate Silver is looking at the current movement toward Romney with caution:

And yet this simple version a trendline analysis does not tell the whole story either. Mr. Romney had appeared to lose further ground in the polls following the public release of his “47 percent” comments.

All of polls that are used for comparison were released after the Democratic convention, but some predated the “47 percent” tape. It’s good for Mr. Romney that his national numbers on Monday looked more like those from just after the Democratic convention, when they weren’t great, rather than those from the past week or two, when they were worse.

The FiveThirtyEight forecast model can account for these various contingencies, looking at exactly when the prior editions of a survey were released in order to calculate the consensus trendline. Viewed in this way, the national polls on Monday did contain modestly good news for Mr. Romney.

Silver noted that in state-by-state polls, the movement toward Romney is not really materializing. Obama has widened his lead in critical swing states like Ohio and Florida, and Silver now predicts that Obama has greater than an 85 percent chance of winning the election.

The optimism for Obama based on the slew of good presidential polls is also evident at polling analysis site Pollster, which predicts the president will win 330 electoral votes, 60 more than are required to win.

The story is the same at other sites, like RealClearPolitics, which uses a more conservative estimate at eliminating toss-up states to find Obama winning 269 electoral votes to Romney’s 181. A separate estimate that does allot toss-up states based on who is leading found Obama would win 332 electoral votes.

The Washington Post’s electoral map also shows a strong lead for Obama based on presidential polls, with Obama leading 255 electoral votes to 206 for Mitt Romney.