The race to 270 electoral votes remains extremely tight, according to new battleground-state polls released on Sunday that underscore that Mitt Romney has made inroads in wresting away President Obama's advantage in the Electoral College.
The race is now deadlocked in Ohio, the state most likely to sit at the tipping point of the Electoral College, according to a poll from the Ohio Newspaper Association, a consortium of in-state newspapers. A new Washington Post poll of likely voters in Virginia gives Obama a narrow edge in a state he flipped to the Democratic column in 2008, some good news from the president. But a poll from the Star Tribune of Minneapolis shows a neck-and-neck race in the emerging battleground of Minnesota, where both campaigns recently purchased television advertising time, according to media reports.
Taken together, these polls, along with national surveys, show a race that could tip to either candidate in the final week of the campaign. Romney has succeeded in expanding the map to include states like Minnesota, but the electoral math still dictates that more traditional battlegrounds like Florida, Ohio and Virginia are likely to pick the next president. The polls also show a significant gender gap in excess of 20 points in each of the three states, with Romney leading among male voters and Obama ahead among females.
The Ohio poll, conducted Oct. 18-23 by the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati, shows Obama and Romney tied at 49 percent, with only 1 percent choosing another candidate and 1 percent undecided. The race is tighter than last month, when the same poll found Obama leading by 5 points, 51 percent to 46 percent. Most reliable, live-caller polls in Ohio have showed Obama with a slight lead, including polls conducted last week by Time magazine and CNN.
Those two polls were actually conducted more recently than the Ohio Newspaper Association poll released on Sunday, though the race has arguably been fairly stable, according to other surveys. The newspaper poll surveyed 1,015 likely voters, for a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.1 percentage points.
The Virginia poll reported in Sunday's Washington Post shows Obama ahead, 51 percent to 47 percent. That is also closer than the previous poll, conducted in mid-September, which gave Obama an 8-point lead, 52 percent to 44 percent. Other polls, however, have been more favorable to Romney, including a Fox News poll last week that gave Romney a scant, 2-point lead. The poll shows a significant gender gap, with Romney leading by 7 points among men, and Obama ahead by 14 points among women.
The Washington Post poll, conducted Oct. 22-26, surveyed 1,228 likely voters and has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.5 percentage points, the paper said.
Obama's lead in the Star Tribune Minnesota poll was 8 points last month, but the new poll, conducted Oct. 23-25 by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, shows him ahead by just 3 points, 47 percent to 44 percent. That is within the margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.5 percentage points. Romney leads among men in the poll of 800 likely voters, 51 percent to 40 percent. Obama remains ahead among female voters, though his 16-point advantage is smaller than last month.
Minnesota only recently emerged as a battleground state, and both campaigns have purchased airtime on television stations in Minneapolis, according to an ABC News report on Friday.
The national polls on Sunday also point to a close race. Romney holds an insignificant, 1-point lead in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, though he leads by 4 points in the Gallup tracking poll, which has been more favorable to him than other daily trackers.
As the candidates, their running mates and surrogates criss-cross the country, the focus centers on those battleground states. Poll averages show Obama clinging to slim leads in states like Ohio and Wisconsin, without which Romney likely can't win.
But many of those same surveys show the race closing; the most recent Marquette Law School poll in Wisconsin, for example, showed a virtual dead heat. The Minnesota poll shows that Romney's improved standing in October has extended to Midwest, predominantly-white states that had made up Democrats' Blue Wall; states like Michigan and Pennsylvania have become more competitive this month, polls show. In Virginia, as other polls differ from Sunday's Washington Post poll, neither candidate has put the commonwealth's 13 electoral votes firmly in his column.
The same demographic divides in the electorate we have seen during the course of the year continue to appear determinative. Obama's lead in the Washington Post's Virginia poll is built upon winning 37 percent of white voters, just a tick down from the 39 percent he won in 2008, according to exit polls. He lags his 2008 performance among whites by 3 points in the Ohio poll, while Romney improves upon Sen. John McCain's showing by the same margin. The 21-point gender gap in Virginia is matched by a 23-point gap in Ohio, where Romney leads by 12 points among men, and Obama leads by 11 among women.
All the data continue to point to an extremely close election, one in which neither candidate can lay a legitimate claim to a significant advantage in states like Ohio that are likely to determine the winner of the Electoral College.