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Aug. 22: Keeping Score on a Busy Polling Day

Wednesday was among the busiest polling days of the year; we added 14 new surveys to our database, including some from rarely polled states like Montana and New Mexico.

Although the pace of polling still lags well behind that of 2008, we’re going to start seeing days like this more often once we get past the party conventions. The simplest way to keep track of things on a day like this is probably just as follows. Sort the polls into three piles: those that showed better numbers for Mitt Romney than our previous impression of a state did; those that showed better numbers for President Obama; and those where the poll was pretty much in line with what we understood about the state already.

There were a few polls in each category on Wednesday.

Good Polls for Mitt Romney

  • An Associated Press poll showed President Obama with a one-point lead in the national race, but, really, this is a better poll for Mr. Romney than for Mr. Obama. The Associated Press’s previous polls had shown a larger advantage for Mr. Obama — by three points, for instance, in their survey in June. And the poll was conducted among registered rather than likely voters, which typically underestimate the standing of Republican candidates by about two percentage points.

  • A poll from Gravis Marketing gave Mr. Romney a small lead in Florida: by two points if the Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson is listed as an option, and by three points if he isn’t. I don’t know much about the polling firm, which also released a poll showing Mr. Romney up in Colorado earlier this week. But it conducts automated surveys (“robopolls”), and typically those are a bit Republican-leaning — partly because they exclude voters relying on their cellphones, who fall into more Democratic demographics. Still, this is the fourth poll out of four to show Mr. Romney with a lead in Florida since Representative Paul D. Ryan was selected as his running mate. All of those were automated surveys; The New York Times, CBS News and Quinnipiac University will be releasing a live-telephone poll of Florida tomorrow.
  • A poll from Rasmussen Reports gave Mr. Romney a huge, 17-point lead in Montana, a state that sometimes was described as a swing state in 2008 but that has had little attention from the campaigns and the pollsters this year. It certainly does not look like a place where Mr. Obama is going to make any headway, although it deserves more polling with the competitive Senate race there.
  • Polls in Line With Expectations

  • A Marquette University poll of Wisconsin gave Mr. Obama a three-point lead among likely voters. This survey is something of a wash: it has the race tightening from a five-point lead for Mr. Obama previously. But it still has him ahead in the state, and the gain for Mr. Romney is pretty consistent with other polls to show a “bounce” in Wisconsin since his pick of Mr. Ryan. Our forecast now gives Mr. Romney a 29 percent chance of winning Wisconsin, up considerably from before his vice-presidential selection, when those chances had fallen below 15 percent.

  • There were two new polls of Nevada — one from SurveyUSA, which gave Mr. Obama a two-point lead, and another from the Democratic polling firm Garin Hart Yang, which has him up by five. SurveyUSA has generally shown decent results in other states for Mr. Obama, and you’d naturally expect Garin Hart Yang to show pretty good numbers for him as well. Still, all 11 polls of Nevada in our database have shown Mr. Obama with a lead there, and Mr. Romney’s electoral calculus is more complicated so long as its six electoral votes remain in the “lean Democrat” column.
  • Good Polls for President Obama

  • A Rasmussen Reports poll of New Mexico gives Mr. Obama a 14-point lead there. This is the first poll of any kind in New Mexico in about a month. The prior Rasmussen Reports poll of New Mexico had also given Mr. Obama a big lead there — 16 points — but it was conducted in April, when Mr. Obama’s numbers had been stronger across the board. New Mexico just does not look like a competitive state this year; our model estimates that Mr. Romney is no more likely to win it than New Jersey.

  • A poll of Georgia from the firm 20/20 Insight LLC shows a surprisingly tight race there, with Mr. Obama trailing Mr. Romney by just three points among likely voters. Since this is the first horse-race poll that the firm has released in Georgia or any other state so far this year, it is hard to put the survey in context, and the model is designed to treat polls skeptically under those conditions; it gives Mr. Obama only about a 3 percent chance of winning Georgia in November. But the state is another that could use more polling; this is the first Georgia poll of any kind since May.
  • So Wednesday was not a knockout polling day for either of the candidates. The New Mexico poll was good for Mr. Obama, but he had already been heavily favored to win there. The Florida poll had a good headline number for Mr. Romney, but we’re not lacking for robopolls that came to the same conclusion, and a number of polls of middling quality aren’t necessarily the best substitute for a good one. The Georgia poll had a better-than-expected result for Mr. Obama and the Montana poll a worse-than-expected one, but neither state is very important in the electoral calculus.

    That leaves the Associated Press national poll as the standout number of the day, showing a positive trend for Mr. Romney. The forecast model now gives Mr. Romney almost exactly a one-in-three chance (33.3 percent) of winning the Electoral College. That is little changed from Tuesday, but it nevertheless is his highest figure in our Electoral College forecast since July 29 and is consistent with a trend toward improved polling for Mr. Romney of late.

    Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.