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Senate Update: Democrats In Purple States Are Beating The National Mood

If feels a little like déjà vu. In the summer of 2012, the national polls and state surveys were telling us very different things about the presidential race. And we’re seeing something similar now. The latest FiveThirtyEight forecast gives Republicans a 59 percent chance of taking back the Senate, but the national data suggests state-level polls may be too optimistic for Democrats — or vice-versa.

On Friday, CNN/Opinion Research released a survey in Iowa giving Democrat Bruce Braley a small lead over Republican Joni Ernst, 49 percent to 48 percent. We have Braley with a 55 percent chance of winning; he’s led in three of the last five surveys and was tied in one.

Iowa is part of a pattern: Democratic candidates hold small leads in other purple states. We have Colorado Senator Mark Udall with a 68 percent chance of winning, and North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan with a 61 percent chance of holding her seat.

So the polling in Iowa, North Carolina and Colorado implies a national political environment that slightly favors Democrats. But our best measure of the national mood favors Republicans. A newly released Pew Research poll found a generic Republican ahead of a generic Democrat on the congressional ballot 47 percent to 44 percent. That gap is in line with other generic ballot polls over the past few weeks; Republicans have led by an average of 4 percentage points among likely voters.

And a recent SurveyUSA poll in North Carolina confirmed this split. It showed a generic Republican up over a generic Democrat by 3 percentage points — even as Hagan led by 3 percentage points.

This divergence may suggest that these Democratic candidates are simply better than their Republican opponents, or it could mean the Republican candidates have more upside.

Either way, here’s the big question: Can Democrats in purple states continue to outperform the national numbers?

Harry Enten was a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.