The presidential race remains tight in two critical Western battleground states won by President Obama in 2008, according to new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist polls released late on Thursday. The polls show Obama and Mitt Romney deadlocked in Colorado, a state Obama won by 12 points four years ago, and Obama narrowly ahead in Nevada, which went to the president by a 12-point margin in the last election.
The horserace results of the polls are not dramatically different from the previous NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist polls, conducted in September, prior to the presidential debates. But in both states, Romney's image ratings have improved over the past month, while Obama's have held mostly steady.
The two states account for fewer electoral votes combined than Ohio, for example, but they are both very important to Obama and Romney. Romney spent Tuesday and Wednesday in Nevada, while Obama hit Denver and Las Vegas on Wednesday as part of his two-day "America Forward!" tour of the country.
In Colorado, Obama and Romney each earn 48 percent support among likely voters, with 4 percent either undecided or preferring another candidate. That is a slight improvement for Romney, who trailed Obama by 5 points in mid-September, 50 percent to 45 percent.
Even among key subgroups, the numbers point to a dead heat. Obama wins 96 percent of Democrats, and Romney holds 96 percent of Republicans. Among independents, they are also running neck-and-neck: 46 percent for Romney, compared with 45 percent for Obama.
Romney leads among male voters, 51 percent to 43 percent. But Obama wins women by a similar margin, 52 percent to 45 percent. And among highly enthusiastic voters, there is no significant difference from the overall result: 49 percent support Romney, and 48 percent choose Obama.
Obama leads Romney in Nevada, 50 percent to 47 percent, with 3 percent choosing another candidate or undecided. That is statistically unchanged from the previous poll last month, when Obama led Romney by 2 points.
The Nevada poll shows Obama with the support of 94 percent of Democrats, compared with Romney's 90 percent among Republicans. Independents side with Romney by 15 points, 55 percent to 40 percent, but that is not enough to overcome a 6-percentage-point advantage in Democratic party-identification in the poll.
The race is tied among highly enthusiastic voters, the poll shows, with Romney at 50 percent to Obama's 49 percent among high-enthusiasm voters. But Obama holds a slight edge among those who say they "strongly support" their candidate, 53 percent to 47 percent.
Some important trends hold in both states. Latinos account for 16 percent of likely voters in both polls, though Obama wins them by a slightly larger margin in Nevada than in Colorado. Marist College does not conduct interviews in Spanish, however.
In each state, Romney's favorability ratings have improved over the past month. In Colorado, 48 percent of likely voters have a favorable opinion of Romney, up from 43 percent last month. In Nevada, Romney's image rating also improved, from 45 percent in September to 48 percent now.
The polls were both conducted Oct. 23-24, after the third and final presidential debate. The Colorado poll surveyed 1,128 likely voters, for a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points. In Nevada, 1,042 likely voters were surveyed, for a margin of error of plus or minus 3.0 percentage points.