More Swing State Storm Clouds for Obama, Romney

The three NBC/Marist Institute swing state polls released Thursday reconfirm the picture painted by the Quinnipiac University polls unveiled Wednesday in three other swing states: the presidential race stands on a knife's edge, with both President Obama and Mitt Romney facing substantial vulnerabilities with undecided voters. But in Michigan, the only must-win for the president in the three states NBC and Marist polled, the president looks to be in a stronger position than Romney with the undecided voters who could tip the result.

The NBC/Marist Polls showed Obama holding only a narrow advantage over Romney in Michigan (47 percent to 43 percent) and North Carolina (46 to 44 percent) while the two men are running dead even in New Hampshire (45 percent to 45 percent). Of those three, Michigan is by far the most important for Obama, though New Hampshire could be an important step on his path toward 270 Electoral College votes depending on how other states fall.

The best news for Obama, of course, is that he's ahead in two of the new states and even in the other. The bad news is that his vote share stands below 50 percent in all three of the new states surveyed, just as it did in the three states that Quinnipiac polled -- Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. And just as in the Quinnipiac polls, Obama's approval rating doesn't crack the 50 percent barrier in any of the three new surveys, either: He's at 48 percent in Michigan, 47 percent in North Carolina and 47 percent in New Hampshire. Those aren't ominous numbers, but neither are they entirely reassuring.

And just like the Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida polls, the new surveys generally reaffirm both Obama's strength at holding cornerstones of his 2008 coalition and the deepening resistance he faces among voters beyond it. In both Michigan and North Carolina, he draws about four-fifths of minority voters, equal to his 2008 national total. (There were too few minorities in New Hampshire to report.) And in all three states, he holds a solid lead among college-educated white women (whom he carried nationally last time), drawing 48 percent of them in North Carolina, 50 percent in Michigan and 54 percent in New Hampshire, according to figures provided by Lee Miringoff and Stephanie Calvano of Marist.

But, as in the states Quinnipiac polled, Obama's numbers with working-class whites are generally bleak in the new surveys. In Michigan, he draws just 34 percent of non-college white men, and 36 percent of non-college white women. In North Carolina, the numbers are even worse: just 26 percent of the non-college white men and 25 percent of the women. In New Hampshire, he does no better among the men (35 percent), though he does run more competitively among the non-college white women (45 percent). With college white men, Obama draws 38 percent in North Carolina, 39 percent in Michigan and, again, a stronger 45 percent in New Hampshire.

But Romney's standing in the three states is no better than equivocal, either. In both New Hampshire and North Carolina as many respondents viewed him unfavorably as favorably; in Michigan, he faces a net negative judgment, with 43 percent viewing him unfavorably and 37 percent favorably.

Among undecided voters, Romney's position is even weaker, according to figures provided by Marist. Among undecided voters in Michigan, just 20 percent view Romney favorably; 31 percent view him unfavorably. Obama holds a somewhat stronger hand with those Michigan voters: although he faces a net negative in his job ratings (28 percent positive, 35 percent negative), more view him favorably than unfavorably (41 percent to 31 percent).

Likewise, Obama's standing seems stronger with undecided voters in North Carolina. They split almost evenly on his job performance (39 percent positive to 41 percent negative) and divide exactly in half on his favorability (37 percent positive to 37 percent negative.). Meanwhile, just 18 percent of undecided North Carolina voters view Romney favorably, with 31 percent holding an unfavorable view.

In New Hampshire, undecided voters hold starkly negative personal impressions of both men. Just 19 percent view Obama favorably, and only 18 percent are favorable toward Romney. Just 26 percent of them approve of Obama's job performance, while 38 percent disapprove.

In all, the NBC/Marist polls in almost every particular reaffirm the message of the Quinnipiac surveys. All six polls show voters across these states largely breaking in similar patterns, with Obama holding the minorities and upscale white women at the core of his 2008 victory, and Romney today amassing even larger margins among the rest of the white electorate than John McCain did in 2008. That points toward an election that could narrowly divide America between two coalitions utterly divergent in their beliefs and demography, but almost exactly equal in size.