Presidential Polls: Candidates Essentially Tied Nationwide, Obama Holds Electoral College Edge

Presidential polls have settled since Mitt Romney erased a wide Barack Obama lead with a strong first debate performance, and now the majority of polls show the candidates tied or within a few points nationally.

There are positives for each candidates in these polls, however. For Romney, an election once seen as slipping away is now firmly within reach. Most polls nationwide show the GOP challenger with a narrow lead or tied with Obama, though there are some outliers like the The Gallup Daily tracking poll that shows Romney up seven points and an Investors Business Daily/TIPP survey that shows Obama with a nearly six-point lead.

A national tracking model from HuffPost Pollster smooths out these outlying presidential polls to see a remarkably close race:

The differences among these surveys, whether the result of ordinary random sampling error or variations in the methods used by the pollsters, are less important for the moment than their collective finding of a near tie nationwide. The HuffPost Pollster poll tracking model, which takes into account all public polls both national and statewide, currently shows a virtual tie as of this writing. Any brief uptick for Obama since the second presidential debate has been washed out by the surveys released since Saturday.

For Obama, there is still a positive to take from a race once decidedly in hand that has now become razor thin. He still has many paths to victory. The president has slumped nationally since his poor performance in the first debate, but presidential polls from the important swing states showed that Obama has been able to maintain his firewall in these states.

If Obama can win Ohio, Wisconsin, and either Iowa or Nevada, he will have the 270 electoral votes necessary to win the election. So far he holds narrow leads in all all of those states, but his hold on Ohio is seen as the most important.

An Ohio survey released on Monday morning by CBS News and Quinnipiac University shows Obama leading Romney by five points (50 to 45 percent). Though a good sign for Obama, this presidential poll still represents a five-point swing for Romney, who had trailed by 10 points in a previous survey.

The HuffPost Pollster tracking model for Ohio puts Obama with a lead of a little more than two percentage points (48.4 to 45.8), though it does not include all polls released Monday.

In Iowa, presidential polls have shown mixed results. The Democratic party-affiliated pollster Public Policy Polling (PPP), showed Mitt Romney holding a one-point edge in its own survey and Obama with a one-point edge in a poll for the group Health Care for America Now.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist College poll from last week in Ohio, one that used both landline and mobile phones, gave Obama an 8-point lead (51 to 43 percent).

The election tracking blog FiveThirtyEight noted that the presidential polls have settled into a period of relative stability recently. The blog’s election forecast was essentially changed over the weekend, with Obama holding a close to 68 percent change of winning the Electoral College.

As the blog’s author Nate Silver noted, this may seem out of whack with nationwide polls:

These estimates might seem to be incongruous with national polls that show a nearly tied race. But the FiveThirtyEight method is, principally, an Electoral College simulation, and therefore relies more heavily on state-by-state polls. Our estimates of the popular vote in the critical states are highly similar to those of other Web sites that use different methods to calculate them.

Silver pointed to a series of polls from swing states that show the race tilting toward Obama:

Battleground Presidential Polls Show Obama Ahead

The difference between pollsters using landline phones only and those also taking mobile phones could make a difference nationwide in presidential polls, HuffPost Pollster noted. The discrepancy causes enough of a change to cast doubt on the accuracy of any polls, the report notes:

Obama’s Ohio margin was much closer, however, on several automated telephone surveys conducted in the past week, polls that are banned by federal law from dialing cell phones. According to a recent government survey, more than half of the adults in Ohio either have only a mobile phone (33 percent) or use their mobile phone to answer most of their calls (18 percent). A live interviewer poll conducted by Fox News last week that sampled both landline and mobile phones gave Obama a 3-percentage point edge in Ohio (46 to 43 percent).

With the third and final debate taking place, both candidates could have their last best chance to move presidential polls in one direction or another. Assuming analysis from FiveThirtyEight and HuffPost Pollster holds up, however, the race for president will go down to the wire on election night.