Romney's 47 Percent Ceiling

If you were feeling generous, you could call Monday the beginning of Mitt Romney’s “comeback.” Not only has he gained ground in national polls—he's pulled within 2 points of Obama in the latest survey from ABC News and the Washington Post—but there’s been positive movement in several swing states. Gravis Marketing now has Florida as a toss-up, and Public Policy Polling shows a tie in North Carolina, echoing the close race of 2008.

October 1

Pollster State LV/RV Obama Romney Margin
CNN USA LV 50 47 O+3
ABC News/Washington Post USA LV 49 47 O+2
Politico/GWU/Battleground USA LV 49 47 O+2
Gallup USA RV 49 45 O+4
Rasmussen USA LV 50 47 O+3
Public Policy Polling Ohio LV 49 45 O+4
Gravis Marketing Florida LV 49 48 O+1
We Ask America Iowa LV 48 44 O+4
Public Policy Polling North Carolina LV 48 48 Tie
American Research Group North Carolina LV 46 50 R+4
We Ask America Colorado LV 49 46 O+3
University of New Hampshire New Hampshire LV 54 39 O+15

This is better news for the Romney campaign, but it’s not good news. For starters, Romney is still underperforming among white voters. According to CNN, he takes 56 percent of whites to Obama’s 41 percent. Given his low support among minorities, Romney needs the overwhelming majority of whites—over 60 percent—to reach the 50-percent mark. Romney has never held this level of white support, and it’s hard to believe he’ll reach it barring a major mistake by President Obama.

Indeed, this highlights an important point about the latest crop of polls: Romney has recovered from his post-convention low, but at most, he’s bounced back to where he’s been the whole year. It’s striking—at no point during the election has Romney broken past 47-percent support in national polls. A handful of polls following the Republican National Convention had him reach 48 or 49 percent support, but in retrospect, they stand out as outliers.

Put another way, in the nearly six months since Romney clinched the Republican presidential nomination, he has won only a small share of the independents and Democrats he needs to win in November. His current standing reflects the near-unanimous support of the Republican Party—and almost no one else. Even if you’re optimistic about Romney’s chances, this is a bad place to be when the election is but a month away.