A Bright Spot in Nevada

President Obama’s margin in national polls hasn’t diminished at all this week—he still maintains a strong position among registered voters and likely voters. What is interesting, however, is his position in Nevada and Arizona.

Thursday, September 27

Pollster State LV/RV Obama Romney Margin
Reuters/Ipsos USA RV 49 42 O+7
Fox News USA LV 48 43 O+5
Gallup USA RV 50 44 O+6
Rasmussen USA LV 46 46 Tie
Suffolk/WWBT Virginia LV 46 44 O+2
NBC/WSJ/Marist Nevada LV 49 47 O+2
NBC/WSJ/Marist New Hampshire LV 51 44 O+7
NBC/WSJ/Marist North Carolina LV 48 46 O+2
Rasmussen Arizona LV 52 42 R+10
Moore Information Arizona RV 42 46 R+4

As Nate Cohn points out, it’s been long assumed that Nevada will fall easily into Obama’s column this year. He won with a 12-point margin in 2008, and his strong performance with Latino voters is a sign that he holds the advantage. On the other hand, Nevada was hard hit by the housing collapse, and has one of the weakest economies in the country—unemployment continues to hover at 12 percent, nearly 4 points above the national average.

It’s for this reason that Romney might be within striking distance. The NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll bears this out: among likely voters, Obama’s approval rating is underwater with 47 percent approval to 49 percent disapproval. If Romney could convert this discontent into support, he would have a shot at winning Nevada, which would give him more breathing room in the event he lost Ohio or Florida. As it stands, Nevadans aren’t thrilled about Romney either; only 45 percent of respondents have a favorable impression of Romney. By contrast, the large plurality of Nevadans, 48 percent, have an unfavorable view of the Republican nominee. Things might look better if he held an advantage on the economy, but he doesn’t—at 48 to 47, he’s nearly tied with Obama on who would better handle the economy.

While it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where Romney improves his numbers, given the national trend, you can just as easily see a future where he collapses in Nevada, especially given the degree to which Democrats have overperformed in the state. 

Arizona is a different story. There’s almost no doubt that it will fall into Romney’s column this November, but there are clear signs of a political shift, driven by demographic trends. Through most of 2008, John McCain held a double-digit lead over Obama in Arizona, which narrowed as the election approached, and McCain tanked his candidacy with a decision to suspend his campaign following the economic collapse. Even still, at the end of the day, McCain won Arizona by 8.5 points, 53.6–45.1.

Romney isn’t a native son, but he is running in a more favorable environment. Even still, he has only held a few McCain-esque leads over the course of the year. What’s more, the Republican nominee for Senate, Representative Jeff Flake, is in a tough race with Democrat Richard Carmona—the most recent polls put Carmona a stone's throw away from overtaking Flake.

As time progresses and Arizona’s Latino electorate grows, expect to see closer margins in the presidential race, and a more competitive statewide environment. Indeed, I wouldn’t be shocked if—by 2020, or even 2016—Arizona becomes a swing state.