Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Brooke Brower

*** Not your ordinary August poll: Our latest NBC/WSJ poll shows President Obama leading Mitt Romney by four points among registered voters, 48%-44%; it suggests that Romney didn’t get much of a bounce after his VP pick; it finds that attitudes about the economy are still dogging the president; and it points to Romney maybe having steeper challenges when it comes to his likeability, perceptions about his compassion, and his plans for Medicare. But NBC/WSJ co-pollster Bill McInturff (R) makes this larger point about the numbers: This isn’t your ordinary August poll — it’s more something you’d see in mid-October. That’s because 1) the numbers have barely moved in the poll since the general election began in earnest in April, and 2) more than $500 million in TV ads have been dropped on these two candidates. After all, if you live in a battleground state, you’ve seen almost every negative ad that the campaigns and outside groups can produce. So when you look at the numbers, think of this as being October, but with the conventions and debates still to come.

*** Three macro-conclusions about the race: If you assume that this isn’t your ordinary August poll — where many opinions might already be locked in — the survey offers three macro-conclusions. One, Obama holds the advantage heading into the conventions. “The election has moved from a referendum to a choice,” co-pollster Peter Hart (D) said. “Mitt Romney is starting to accumulate a number of negatives on the personal front and issues front.” Two, the president is still below that all-important 50% threshold for an incumbent. “When a guy gets stuck at 48%, it doesn’t mean they are out of the clear,” McInturff says. “It means they are in an incredibly competitive campaign.” And three, Romney has some work to do in selling himself at next week’s GOP convention. Per the poll, Obama has a 22-point lead (52%-30%) on caring about average people, as well as a 28-point advantage (52%-24%) on issues concerning women. These are what we call our “gut check” questions, and Romney is trailing here — and trailing badly.

*** How our poll explains Romney’s welfare attack: Our new poll also might explain why the Romney campaign has been airing all of those TV ads on welfare (which the AP today says are “distorting the facts”) or why Paul Ryan was invoking “clinging to my guns and my religion” yesterday while campaigning in Pennsylvania. The reason: Romney is underperforming with white voters. According to the survey, Romney leads Obama among this demographic group by 13 points (53%-40%), but that isn’t much different than McCain’s 12-point edge in 2008 per the exit polls (55%-43%) — and McCain decisively lost the election. Also in the poll, Romney leads Obama among white men by 19 points (not much different than McCain’s 16 points) and among white women by eight points (McCain’s advantage was seven). If Romney is going to win in November, he needs to EXPAND those margins. And here’s why: If you assume that whites make up 74% of the electorate like they did in ’08 (and there’s a good argument to make that, because of the Latino growth, it will be less than that), then Obama winning 90%-plus of the black vote, 67% of the Latino vote, and 40% of the white vote gets him past 50%.