President Obama and Mitt Romney are neck-and-neck in three new battleground-state polls released early on Thursday, suggesting a broad electoral map at this stage of the general election.
Extrapolated, the NBC News/Marist polls -- conducted earlier this week in Michigan, New Hampshire and North Carolina -- show that Obama has lost significant ground in some traditionally Democratic states, particularly among white voters. But changing demographics have kept Obama competitive in other states that have voted for Republicans in the past, further scrambling the landscape.
Obama leads Romney in Michigan and North Carolina, but his leads fall within the margins of error for each poll. In Michigan, Obama holds a slim, 4-point advantage, 47 percent to 43 percent. In North Carolina, his lead is just 2 points, 46 percent to 44 percent.
The two candidates are deadlocked in New Hampshire, with Obama and Romney each earning 45 percent of the vote, the poll shows.
Michigan gives Obama his largest lead of the three states, but the president's standing in the Wolverine State has fallen sharply since 2008, when he won by 16 percentage points.
"Despite Obama's edge in the state, the president is still below 50 [percent] and is running substantially behind what he got four years ago," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion.
Obama won 51 percent of white voters four years ago, according to exit polls, but the poll shows him at just 38 percent among whites today. Romney now wins the narrow, 51-percent of majority of these voters.
Forty-eight percent of Michigan voters approve of the job Obama is doing as president, and 42 percent disapprove. Obama also maintains a positive image rating: 51 percent of voters have a favorable opinion of him, compared to 41 percent who view him unfavorably.
Romney's image in the state is more negative, despite his ties to Michigan, where his father was once governor. Just 37 percent of voters have a favorable impression of Romney, with 43 percent viewing him unfavorably.
Respondents were not asked about the auto bailout -- which Obama supported and Romney opposed -- but the two candidates are virtually tied on the question of which candidate would do a better job handling the economy: 44 percent say Obama, and 42 percent pick Romney.
The vast majority of the New Hampshire data point to a dead heat. Granite State voters are split on Obama, with 47 percent approving of his job performance, and 45 percent disapproving. Voters view Obama (50 percent favorable/44 percent unfavorable) slightly more favorably than Romney (45 percent favorable and unfavorable), but Romney has a slight edge on handling the economy, 46 percent to 42 percent.
The New Hampshire poll shows a distinct gender gap: Romney wins men by 11 points, while Obama captures female voters by 10. Married voters support Romney by an 8-point margin, but Obama leads among non-married voters by 9 points.
Romney's voters are marginally more enthusiastic than Obama's, but the two are still tied among voters who say their interest in the race is high.
If Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., were chosen as Romney's running mate, she would be unlikely to alter the dynamic in the state. The two tickets are still locked in a virtual tie, the poll shows, with the Obama-Biden ticket edging Romney-Ayotte by 2 points.
Obama was the first nominee from his party to carry North Carolina since Jimmy Carter, and Democrats have banked on the state's changing racial and socioeconomic makeup to make the state more competitive in the long-term, as evidenced by their choice of Charlotte as host of this year's quadrennial party convention. Obama's lead in the state, albeit by a statistically-insignificant margin, considering he captures only 32 percent of the white vote, underscores those changes.
Obama's share of the white vote has ticked down from the 35 percent he earned in 2008, according to exit polls. It is possible the NBC News/Marist poll slightly under-represents white voters. The poll depicts an electorate that is 69 percent white, down from 72 percent in the 2008 exit poll and 71 percent in 2004.
Young voters -- those under age 30 -- support Obama by a 22-percent margin, less than the 48-point blowout he recorded in 2008 among these voters.
Despite that, the enthusiasm gap in the state seems to favor Obama. Among voters with high enthusiasm, he leads, 52 percent to 43 percent. Among voters with high interest in the election, Obama also leads, 50 percent to 44 percent.
Voters in the state are split on the president's job performance -- 47 percent approve, 47 percent disapprove -- and both candidates register similar favorable/unfavorable splits. Voters are also divided evenly on which candidate will do a better job handling the economy.
The NBC News/Marist polls were conducted June 24-25 by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. In Michigan, 1,078 voters were surveyed, for a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3 percentage points. In New Hampshire, the poll surveyed 1,029 registered voters, for a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.1 percentage points. The North Carolina poll surveyed 1,019 registered voters, for a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.1 percentage points.
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