Latest Presidential Polls: Obama Holds Electoral College Edge, But Hurricane Sandy Could Muddy Forecasts

The latest presidential polls show that Barack Obama has weathered the surge Mitt Romney saw after the GOP candidate’s decisive first debate victory and holds leads in the swing states needed to win 270-plus electoral votes and re-election.

But the relative stability seen in polls over the last two weeks could go out the window as Hurricane Sandy comes ashore, cutting off a large swatch of voters from participating in presidential polls. As Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight points out, the full impact of Hurricane Sandy isn’t known because the sheer magnitude of the storm itself is unprecedented.

With the storm hitting along the East Coast, which is heavy with Obama voters in liberal states, national polls could be thrown off, he predicts:

“Imagine that 15 million people are essentially off-limits to pollsters because of the hurricane, because they are without power, displaced from their homes or otherwise are well-adjusted human beings who are more interested in looking after their families than in answering a political survey. The Northeast is Democratic leaning, of course: imagine that these voters would prefer Barack Obama to Mitt Romney by a net of 20 percentage points, on average.

“Fifteen million Americans represent about one-twentieth of the American population. If one-twentieth of Americans, who are 20 points Democratic-leaning, are unable to reply to surveys, Mr. Obama’s standing in the polls would be negatively impacted by a net of one percentage point as a result.”

Presidential polls have shown a very tight race, notes HuffPost Pollster‘s Mark Blumenthal. The number of daily tracking polls have increased in the past few weeks, giving Americans a closer sense of the daily changes in the race. That could soon become more difficult, Blumenthal notes.

Many of the national polling firms are located on the East Coast, with Gallup, Rasmussen Reports, SurveyUSA, and Princeton Survey Research Associates International (PSRAI), all having their headquarters in New Jersey, which is the bulls-eye for Hurricane Sandy.

“The loss of power and/or telephone connections obviously cripples a call center,” said PSRAI CEO Evans Witt, and “also make it inadvisable or difficult for staff and interviewers to reach the call center to work.”

Investor’s Business Daily editor Ed Carson reported via Twitter that “IBD/TIPP polling has been suspended due to Hurricane Sandy.”

Scott Rasmussen, whose presidential polling firm is based out of Asbury Park, N.J., told the Huffington Post that his firm has not attempted to relocate its operations in anticipation of the storm, but does “have access to limited amounts of backup power.”

As it stands now, Obama’s standing relative to Mitt Romney is strong where it matters — in swing states. Though the GOP challenger used a strong debate performance to surge from a four- to six-point deficit to tie the race, or in some cases even take a small lead, that momentum has since stopped, Silver notes.

Looking back, he ascribes Romney’s surge to Republican-leaning undecided voters “coming home” to Romney, just as Democratic-leaning voters came to Obama after the Democratic National Convention, giving Obama a bounce then. With the two surges wiping each other out, presidential polls now show the race roughly where it stood in late summer, Silver noted.

Even during Romney’s surge, he was never able to pick up enough ground in the crucial swing states of Ohio, Wisconsin, Nevada, and Iowa. Some combination of those states would push Obama over the 270 electoral vote threshhold, allowing him to lose in swing states like Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia and still win the election.

An analysis of presidential polls in states where one candidate is expected to win by a single-digit margin, Silver found that there was little movement between June 7 polls and October 28 polls. Most of these presidential polls showed less than three percentage points of change:

Swing State Polls Show Little Change Since Summer

Presidential polls are now pointing toward a narrow Obama re-election. HuffPost Pollster predicts that, based on current presidential polls, he will earn 277 electoral votes. FiveThirtyEight gives Obama a close to 75 percent chance of re-election, predicting that he will win 295 electoral votes.

Other polling firms are similarly high on Obama’s re-election changes. Presidential polls compiled by RealClearPolitics show that Obama has 270 electoral votes in states either likely or leaning his way. The Washington Post analysis shows Obama leading the race on a path toward re-election.