Dire Straits for Mitt Romney

We’ll know for certain in a few weeks, but judging from the current round of polls—two weeks removed from the Democratic National Convention—we seem to have reached an inflection point in the election. Even including today’s Rasmussen tracking poll, President Obama is leading in every likely voter national survey taken at least a week after the convention.

The New York Times and CBS News have Obama leading 49% to Mitt Romney’s 46%. The Pew Research Center has him at 51% to Romney’s 43%. He reaches 50 percent in polls from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, as well as the latest Public Policy Polling survey of likely voters. At 48%, Monmouth University gives him a 3 point advantage over Romney, and the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll places him at 48% but with a 5 point margin over the Republican nominee. Only Rasmussen and the Associated Press give him narrow leads—2 points for the former and 1 point for the latter.

If you prefer to count swing states, he’s ahead in every contested state other than North Carolina. He has an average lead of 3 in Ohio, 3.9 in Virginia, 1.7 in Florida, 1 in Colorado, 8.9 in Pennsylvania, 0.7 in Iowa, 2.5 in Nevada, 6.3 in Wisconsin, and 0.2 in New Hampshire. If he won each of those states, he’d have 332 electoral votes.

The difference between the large national surveys—Pew, NBC, CBS, etc.—and the daily tracking polls is easy to explain; the former use live interviewers to call cell phones, and the latter don’t. Large numbers of Americans rely soley on cell phones, and they are disproportionately inclined to support Obama—young, nonwhite, lower income. Including them gets you a result that is much friendlier to Obama, even when you restrict the pool to likely voters. Indeed, depending on how you weight the daily trackers, this race is either a toss-up, or one where Obama has a decisive advantage.

If I were forced to choose, I’d go with decisive advantage. I’d feel differently if Mitt Romney were a competent candidate with a strong campaign, but neither of those things are true. Team Romney has stumbled at key moments throughout the year, and Romney himself has never been able to build an advantage with the public. Even with his (small) bounce from the RNC, Romney was not able to overtake President Obama’s polling lead. Indeed, Romney has never led in a polling average—he’s been behind by roughly 2 points since April, when he clinched the Republican nomination.

It’s true that if polls were restricted to likely voters during the summer, Romney would have held something of an advantage throughout. But that only highlights the degree to which this was tenuous and overly reliant on low enthusiasm from Obama voters.

None of this is to say that Romney can’t bounce back. The polls can tighten, the economy can get worse, and Romney can recover just enough to make this race a toss-up. But the odd are not in his favor. The debates do little to move votes, and voter opinions tend to lock in by October. What’s more, there aren’t many Republicans for Romney to win back from Obama—both candidates are winning the vast majority of partisans and partisan-leaners. At The Guardian, Harry Enten provides a stark bit of perspective, “Simply put, there hasn’t been a single candidate to come back after trailing by 3 points this late in the campaign in the past 60 years.”

Romney is in dire straits, and he’s running out of time to correct the course.