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July 10: Romney Edges Up After Busy Poll Day

With five national polls out on Tuesday, and three in crucial swing states, we’ve finally moved out of the poll doldrums. This data tells a somewhat ambiguous story. But our model, in sorting through everything, has Mitt Romney slightly improving his position. He’s up to a 33.9 percent chance of winning the Electoral College, from 32.8 percent on Monday.

To be sure, President Obama got his share of good news, in particular a poll showing him eight points ahead in Virginia. But that poll comes from a firm, Public Policy Polling, that has frequently shown good results for Mr. Obama, so it’s more of a ground-rule double for him than a home run.

Knowing something about a pollster’s partisan lean is important when picking through the numbers on day like Tuesday. Public Policy Polling, for instance, had Mr. Obama up by one point in another survey it conducted in North Carolina. Rasmussen Reports had Mr. Romney up by one in Florida.

When you account for each polling firm’s “house effect,” however, the difference actually reverses itself. Public Policy Polling surveys have been four to five points more favorable to Mr. Obama so far this cycle than those from Rasmussen Reports, which has Republican-leaning results. That means being behind by one point in the Rasmussen poll was actually a more favorable data point for Mr. Obama than being up by one in the Public Policy Polling survey of North Carolina — which makes sense since Florida is normally the easier state for the Democratic candidate to win.

Still, the real action was in national polls. On average, the five national polls released on Tuesday (counting the national tracking polls) showed an exact tie between the candidates. It’s still too soon to tell how meaningful the pattern is, but that’s certainly a better result for Mr. Romney than national polls conducted in late June, which had tended to give Mr. Obama about a three-point edge.

If Mr. Romney needed a tiebreaker, he got one in the form of a fairly steep decline in the stock market, one of the variables our model uses to calibrate its economic index. There wasn’t much in the way of U.S. economic data released on Tuesday, but investors are growing more concerned about Spain’s debt problems.

Bottom line: Tuesday was not a day that lends itself to elegant narratives about the race. But if Mr. Obama scores one point for the Virginia poll, Mr. Romney gets two: one for his reasonably favorable results in national polls and another for the economic index’s moving downward.

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