President Obama still leads narrowly in most polls in Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio and Wisconsin, keeping him on the path to win next Tuesday’s election. If Obama maintains his lead in those five states, he would be reelected with 281 electoral votes.
About nine states, including those five, remain heavily-contested, and Mitt Romney is the favorite in two other key battlegrounds, Florida and North Carolina. Colorado and Virginia appear to be the closest states, as the poll tracking site Real Clear Politics describes them as effectively tied. Even if Romney won all four states, he would only collect 257 electoral votes. (Related: Where Obama and Romney need votes in Ohio, the state that could decide it all)
But the polling is presenting a complicated picture, and Romney could certainly win next Tuesday. Surveys released by National Public Radio, the New York Times and the Washington Post over the last few days show a deadlocked race nationally. Obama’s leads in Ohio and New Hampshire are very small (as is Romney’s in Florida) and within the margin of error in the surveys.
Obama’s biggest advantage is that he is ahead 237 to 191 among the 41 states concerned relatively safe, meaning he can lose many of the remaining nine states and still reach the required 270 electoral votes.
Obama aides argue they are outperforming Romney in terms of early voting, but this, like the polls, is an imperfect measure, as Democrats have focused more on getting people to vote early in-person, while the GOP is relying more on same-day and absentee voting.
It’s almost impossible to determine exactly how Hurricane Sandy will affect the results, if at all, as Obama spends his third straight day off the campaign trail. (None of the states hit most heavily by the storm are swing states with large numbers of people who vote early. And it’s probably a fool’s errand trying to guess how swing voters evaluate Obama or Romney’s performance during the storm.) The same goes for the report on the unemployment rate that will be released on Friday: unless it shows a dramatic change in the jobless rate, it seems unlikely to make a huge impact on an electorate that has long known that Obama has presided over high unemployment.
The underlying dynamics of the race are little changed from June: the president has a huge lead among minorities, Romney dominates among white men and has a narrow advantage of among white women. Voters generally like Obama, but are wary of his handling of the economy. Over the last month, Romney has made gains, particularly among women, as more voters view him as likeable.
The president remains very reliant on turnout from blacks, Latinos and voters under 30 to win.
Follow Perry Bacon Jr. on Twitter at @perrybaconjr