What's the Matter in Colorado?

This morning, The New York Times and CBS News, with Quinnipiac University, released their latest set of swing state polls, for Virginia, Wisconsin and Colorado. In the Old Dominion, Obama leads Romney by four points—49 to 45—and in the Badger State, he leads the Republican nominee by six, 51 to 45. These numbers are in line with previous surveys; in both states, Obama has led in ten of the last 11 polls, with an average lead of 2.8 points for Virginia, and 5.8 points for Wisconsin.

Colorado is a little different. According to the NYT, CBS News and Quinnipiac University, Romney leads there by 5 points, 50 to 45. This is out of line with previous surveys; for most of the summer, Obama has maintained a narrow but persistent lead in the state. Today marks the first time Romney has ever been ahead in Colorado:

This should make us suspicious. If the race in Colorado were truly a toss-up, then Romney should be ahead as much as he is behind. Moreover, it’s unusual for a candidate to gain ground in one state, but stagnate—or even lose—in other, similar states. If Obama is behind in Colorado, then he’s likely slipped among college-educated white voters, who are overrepresented in the state. If that’s true, then you should see similar slippage in Virginia and North Carolina, both states with heavy populations of college-educated whites. As it stands, neither is true (in fact, Obama has gained somewhat among Tar Heels).

This doesn’t show that the new poll is wrong, only that we should view it as one data point among many. And keeping that in mind, the polling in Colorado is still consistent with a slight Obama lead——yesterday, for example, Public Policy Polling showed him with 49 percent to Romney’s 43 percent.

With a margin of error of ±5 percent, the most you can say about the CBS/New York Times poll is that the range of possibilities includes a scenario where Romney wins 50 percent of the vote in Colorado. But given what we know about the state, I’d rank that as unlikely.

On a similar note, the same goes for Florida, where the NYT, CBS News and Quinnipiac picked up a large lead (six points) for President Obama. Most polls show a genuine toss-up in the Sunshine State, with both candidates within a few points of each other. Yes, there’s a decent chance 51 percent of Florida’s voters support the president. But—for now at least—the actual margin is almost certainly much closer than it looks.

For more polling information, go to The Prospect’s 2012 election map.