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Swing State Update: Many Polls Tightening, But Dems Are Ahead In Early Voting

Democrats appear to have the upper hand in more key states.

With less than three weeks until all of the 2012’s presidential voting will end—the country is drowning in polls showing the race tightening and swing states breaking for Obama or Romney. But beyond this blizzard of numbers, there is another indice to heed: so far, Democrats are outperforming Republicans in early voting. And Obama is ahead in the Electoral College math.

You wouldn’t necessarily know this from the latest polls, such as this summary from Real Clear Politics, which tracks 11 swing states and found Romney and Obama were neck and neck on Monday—based on its averaging of national polls—and even had Romney ahead for a while based on the latest surveys.

But this statistical blizzard is not taking into account two very important factors, according to George Mason University’s Michael McDonald, one of the nation’s leading voter turnout experts. First, polling organizations do not count newly registered voters as ‘likely voters,’ which means even though Romney is said to be ahead in Florida by one-to-two points in polls, they are not counting hundreds of thousands of new voter registrations by Democratic groups—which could account for a larger percent of votes cast. And second, Democrats are voting early in large numbers where that is an option, suggesting there's not a drop off compared to 2008.   

“At this point there is no evidence that the Democrats are less engaged than 2008,” McDonald said on Wednesday. “If the election was held today, Obama wins right now… He’s winning in Iowa. The early voting numbers [there] show his support is building like it did in 2008. If he wins in Iowa, it comes down to Wisconsin and Ohio. And we might expect Wisconsin to be somewhat like Iowa.”

Swing State Shifts  

Real Clear Politics identifies 11 swing states, some of which are no longer seen as being on the fence between Obama and Romney: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.

The New York Times’ Nate Silver is a polling expert who writes a blog that assesses polls and pollsters. He says that Pennsylvania, with one of 2012’s biggest voter ID fights, is lining up behind Obama. In contrast, North Carolina, despite hosting the Democratic National Convention, is tilting toward Romney. Nevada, Wisconsin, New Hampshire and even Ohio are seen as falling into the Obama column. The latest polls put Florida in Romney’s hands, leaving only three states that he sees as genuine toss-ups: Virginia, Colorado and Iowa. (However, while Silver’s expertise is polls, McDonald’s is voter turnout, and he sees Obama pulling ahead in Iowa).

Silver says the polling at this stage in the race is accurate but still educated guesswork, because many analysts are trying to balance national and state surveys that are reaching contradictory conclusions—for Obama or Romney. As Silver noted on Monday, “Anyone in my business who is not a bit terrified by this set of facts is either lying to himself—or he doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

Where that leaves voters is as dicey as it is obvious: it comes down to voter turnout. The political map was upended after the first presidential debate when Obama’s weary visuals left a deeper impression than his words to those who watched on TV. Tonight’s debate will be very important with motivating the bases from both parties.

Another factor that is not reflected in the polls is the election law landscape in key swing states. There are factors in a number of swing states that, on balance, could be more helpful to Democrats than to the GOP—if Obama voters decide to turnout. Let’s look at some of these swing states and the voting landscape.

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