In honor of the impending start of football season, let us offer a football metaphor to describe the presidential campaign: If the race for the White House were a football game, President Obama and Mitt Romney would be trotting onto the field for the start of the fourth quarter with the score tied.
That’s because a Washington Post-ABC News poll released today has the candidates in a virtual dead heat, with Romney being chosen by 47 percent of the poll respondents, while the president was the choice of 46 percent. Considering the poll’s margin of error of four points, this 1 point split means the race is statistically even.
That is almost exactly where the numbers were a month ago, meaning the millions of dollars the campaigns are spending in the battleground states to bash one another has had little effect on voters’ preferences, at least in this particular poll. Of course those voters who don’t live in swing states have seen very little of the negative campaigning because both campaigns are in agreement that one of the candidates is virtually guaranteed to win the state.
It should be noted with each of these national polls that while they are an interesting snapshot of voters’ preferences across the country, they are almost meaningless when it comes to winning the most electoral votes to take the presidency. Obama leads the poll numbers in most of the states with big electoral prizes, while Romney’s lead tends to be in the lesser populated states of the South and Midwest.
For example, the website realclearpolitics.com shows that when you add up the states considered solidly in one candidate’s corner, Obama’s electoral college total is nearly double Romney’s—142 to 76. The site still shows Obama with a comfortable electoral college lead of 221 to 181—but Obama has lost 16 electoral votes in the site’s prediction model over the past two weeks since Romney chose Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate. The change was mainly due to Obama losing Wisconsin and Michigan from his “leans Obama” column (they are now considered toss-ups), with their electoral college hauls of 10 and 16, respectively. But the loss to Obama was partly offset by Missouri (10 electoral votes) going from “leans Romney” to tossup, perhaps because of the controversial statements of Rep. Todd Akin about abortion and “legitimate rape.”
As has been the case now for several months, neither candidate has been able to build any sustained momentum. Though Romney has gotten a bump from adding Ryan, the optics of the race haven’t changed much. The economy is still the biggest issue in the minds of voters, with 72 percent of poll respondents saying the president’s handling of the economy will be a “major factor” in their November decision.
“Obama continues to get more negative reviews than positive ones for his handling of the economy, and there is tepid confidence that the economy would get back on track in a second Obama term,” the Washington Post said in a story about its poll. “Majorities have disapproved of how Obama is dealing with issue No. 1 for more than two years, although his numbers have not further deteriorated, despite a string of weak jobs reports leading into the fall campaign season.”