Image: Barack Obama
Ed Andrieski  /  AP
President Barack Obama waves after speaking at a campaign rally in Golden, Colo., Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012.
By
NBC News
updated 9/14/2012 9:37:22 AM ET 2012-09-14T13:37:22

After two political conventions and heading into the post-Labor Day sprint, President Barack Obama leads Republican nominee Mitt Romney in the key battlegrounds of Florida, Ohio and Virginia, according to new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist polls of each of these three states.

Click for poll results: Virginia | Ohio | Florida (pdfs)

In both Florida and Virginia, Obama is ahead of Romney by five points among likely voters (including those leaning toward a particular candidate), 49 percent to 44 percent.

In Ohio, the president’s lead is seven points, 50 percent to 43 percent.

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Among a larger pool of registered voters, Obama’s advantage over Romney slightly increases to 7 points in Virginia, 8 in Florida and 9 in Ohio.

"You'd rather be in Obama's shoes than Romney's in these three critical states," Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, says of the poll results.

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But he adds that Obama’s leads are not "insurmountable," especially as the two candidates prepare for their first presidential debate on Oct. 3 in Colorado.

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These states – all of which Obama carried in 2008 but which George W. Bush won in 2004 – represent three of the most crucial battlegrounds in the 2012 presidential election. And according to NBC's electoral map, Romney likely needs to capture at least two of these states, if not all three, to secure the 270 electoral votes necessary to win the presidency.

By comparison, Obama can reach 270 by winning just one or two of these battlegrounds – on top of the other states already considered to be in his column.

(Obama also has an additional path to victory without any of these three states if he wins the toss-up contests of Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin.)

What's particularly striking about these polls, Miringoff observes, is how most voters in these battleground states have already made up their minds, with just 5 to 6 percent saying they’re undecided, and with more than 80 percent signaling that they strongly support their candidate.

"Those who are thinking of voting have pretty much picked sides," he says.

Video: Obama leading in Va., Fla, Ohio per new poll; Can Romney gain ground?


Economy vs. foreign policy
In Florida and Virginia, Obama and Romney are essentially tied among likely voters on the question of which candidate would do a better job handling the economy, although Obama has a four-point advantage on this question in Ohio.

But when it comes to handling foreign policy, the incumbent Democratic president enjoys a double-digit lead over his Republican challenger.

Also in the polls, Obama’s job-approval ratings – 50 percent in Ohio and 49 percent in Florida and Virginia – exactly match his ballot position against Romney in these states.

And in each of these three battlegrounds, a majority of likely voters say the country is on the wrong track, while more than 40 percent believe that it’s headed in the right direction.

Looking at the Senate races
The polls also measure the key U.S. Senate contests in these three states, all of which could determine the balance of power in that chamber.

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In Florida, incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson leads Republican challenger Connie Mack among likely voters by double digits, 51 percent to 37 percent.

In Ohio, incumbent Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown is ahead of GOP challenger Josh Mandel by seven points, 49 percent to 42 percent.

And in Virginia, Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican George Allen are tied at 46 percent each.

The NBC/WSJ/Marist polls of Florida, Ohio and Virginia were conducted from Sept. 9-11 of nearly 1,000 likely voters in each state (about 30 percent by cell phone), and they have a margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points.

A likely voter is determined based on interest in the upcoming election, the chance of voting, and prior participation in past elections.

More than 1,300 registered voters were surveyed in each of the three states, and the margin of error for those voters is plus-minus 2.7 percentage points.

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Video: New poll shows Obama edge in key states

  1. Closed captioning of: New poll shows Obama edge in key states

    >> chuck todd is nbc's political director and chief white house correspondent, joins from us our newsroom in washington. chuck, good morning.

    >> good morning, david.

    >> let's start with foreign policy . look, how does this play? governor romney goes on attack in the middle of this crisis. was it political opportunism that is to his detriment or an appropriate opportunity to really separate himself from the president on foreign policy ?

    >> well, i think at this point whether they can't have the timing issue back, right, this question did they go too soon, did they criticize too soon, there's certainly a debate inside, amongst some romney supporters about whether it was appropriate or not, but it doesn't matter now. the romney campaign believes there is an opportunity here, and there's a couple of things to keep an eye on here. first of all, if you saw this morning in the " washington post ," a whole bunch of romney foreign policy advisers who drew a bright line this morning, david, and they said this would not have happened on a president romney 's watch which, of course, you've got the obama campaign pretty fired up and pretty upset about that, but one thing to look for in the next couple of weeks, a major foreign policy speech from romney . i think they feel like it's an opportunity, and at this point they do need to flesh this out and that they will get a lot of attention for it when they do it.

    >> a lot is about the context of the race. new polling out from the battleground states , take us through this including advantage the president when it comes to ohio .

    >> the big three states, ohio , virginia, florida. we've got new data. all of the polls were conducted sunday through tuesday before the flare-ups in the middle east , before all of that, but look at these advantages for the president. he hits 49% or 50 in all three states. in ohio his lead is up to seven points. hits the 50% mark, both in florida and virginia, 49-44. the bigticaway is the right track, wrong track numbers in these states. all of the right track numbers went over 40% for the first time that we've been tracking, right direction, wrong direction, where is the country headed, lingering in the low 30s. i've talked to some democrats. they think this is the bill clinton bump. that convention speech he made which was the whole idea that, hey, this is where the country is. maybe it's more on the right track than you think, that may be the most northern bump from the convention.

    >> and that right track, wrong track, the big indicator where independent voters are. we'll keep a close eye on that. chuck todd , thank you very

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