At first glance, the USA Today/Gallup poll of twelve battleground states, conducted June 22-29, looks like good news for President Obama. In the poll released Monday, Mr. Obama leads Mitt Romney 47% to 45% in the territory where most observers agree the presidential race will be settled.
But USA Today failed to provide context for its survey of voter attitudes in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin, just as it did when it issued its May 2 battleground state poll.
In 2008, Mr. Obama won all twelve states with a combined 54% of the vote to Senator John McCain’s 45% -- a nine point margin.
Today, however, Mr. Obama is running behind his 2008 performance in these battlegrounds, as his two-point lead over Mr. Romney there is actually seven points less than his 2008 margin over Mr. McCain.
This all points to a defeat this year for Mr. Obama in many (if not most) of the battleground states.
Assuming Mr. Romney wins all the states Mr. McCain carried as well as Indiana (which USA Today/Gallup apparently thinks likely by its failure to include any of those states in its survey), then the GOP challenger needs to take only five battlegrounds to win: North Carolina, Virginia, Florida, Ohio and any other state on the list.
And if Mr. Obama performs like this across the country come November -- the way he is lagging behind his 2008 battleground state performance today -- then he will receive just 47% of the vote nationwide and lose to Mr. Romney.
Context matters: it is strange that USA Today has twice run front page pieces on its battleground state surveys without providing the context that Mr. Obama is running well behind his 2008 pace.
USA Today also declared Mr. Obama “the clear winner in the ad wars” because he leads Mr. Romney 76% to 16% among swing-state voters who say campaign ads have changed their mind about a candidate.
But again, context matters.
Just eight percent of the 1,200-person sample said they changed their minds after seeing campaign ads. That’s a pretty small slice of any poll to make sweeping claims about: if the margin of error for a 1,200-person sample is +/- 4%, you can imagine what it is for a 96-person sub-sample.
Suspicions about the reliability of what USA Today reads into such a tiny sample is reinforced by the fact that the latest poll results are the same as their May survey’s results, which also found Mr. Obama at 47% and Mr. Romney at 45%. Maybe the ad wars are being fought to a draw, not to Mr. Obama’s big advantage.