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July 23: Is Minnesota a Battleground Again?

President Obama’s chances of winning the Electoral College fell slightly in Monday’s forecast, to 66.8 percent from 68.0 percent on Saturday.

Part of the reason is a new round of bad news from Europe, where investors are growing more concerned about the ability of Greece and Spain to meet their bailout obligations. The stock market declined on the European news, which in turn caused a decline in the economic index that our model uses.

There are times when stock market prices — and to a lesser extent, the other economic data series that our model uses — fluctuate more or less at random. But on a day like Monday, when the market was reacting to real news about Europe, it can be important to remember that what is happening overseas can sometimes be the most important political story of the day, at least when it comes to forecasting November’s outcome.

Mr. Obama also received some mediocre data in Minnesota, where a new SurveyUSA poll showed him six points ahead of Mitt Romney there. This is the first survey to show the race within single digits in the state.

On the one hand, a poll showing Mr. Obama ahead by six in Minnesota is not an intrinsically terrible, or unexpected, result for him. Minnesota has become more of a swing state in recent years, and polls in similar states like Michigan and Wisconsin had shown reasonably close races there.

On the other hand, the poll shows a decline from the prior SurveyUSA poll of the state, and Mr. Obama may need to consider whether he needs to invest resources in defending it. With the new poll, Minnesota now ranks 11th on our list of tipping point states — putting it somewhere on the border between those states that the campaigns clearly need to attend to and those that might fall into the “optional” category.

Mr. Romney will need to make a decision about Minnesota as well, of course. In 2008, it proved to be a bit of a trap state for Republicans. They held their convention there and invested a significant amount of advertising in the state, but these efforts did not seem to move the needle much.

Minnesota is also interesting in that it is very similar, demographically and politically, to its neighbor and rival Wisconsin. Arguably, that makes it redundant if Mr. Romney thinks he already has a path to 270 electoral votes through Wisconsin. But the states could also be viewed as a two-for-one parlay, their 20 total electoral votes likely to move in tandem with each other.

Neither campaign, probably, should change its strategy in the state on the basis of a single poll there. The model still makes Mr. Obama a fairly heavy favorite in Minnesota, giving him an 88 percent chance of winning it in November.

But the state has been sparsely polled and probably merits a more attention than it has been getting from pollsters and poll-watchers.

Some pollsters, in fact, have ignored Minnesota when coming up with their list of “battleground states,” even though it is more likely to play an important role in the electoral math than states like Arizona that have often been included on those lists.

Minnesota may not be the sexiest state, but we’re a long way removed from the 1980s when Democrats could take it for granted every year.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.