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Polls: Obama holds his lead in Iowa, Wisconsin

With fewer than three weeks until Election Day, new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist polls show President Barack Obama maintaining his lead over Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in the battleground states of Iowa and Wisconsin. 

According to the polls – which were conducted from Monday through Wednesday, encompassing Tuesday’s presidential debate in New York and after – Obama receives the support of 51 percent of likely voters in Iowa to Romney’s 43 percent. 

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That eight-point margin is unchanged from the NBC/WSJ/Marist poll released last month (before the debate season began), when the president led his Republican opponent 50 percent to 42 percent.

Click here for poll results: Iowa | Wisconsin (.pdfs)

And in Wisconsin, Obama is ahead by six points among likely voters, 51 percent to 45 percent, which also is virtually unchanged from last month. 

After two presidential debates, Marist pollster Lee Miringoff observes, the races in Iowa and Wisconsin are back to where they were in September. “There were two debates, but you can’t tell it from the numbers.”

These two battleground states combined account for just 16 electoral votes in this presidential contest. But they play a large role in each campaign’s path to securing the 270 electoral votes necessary to win the White House.

If Obama wins both Iowa and Wisconsin, according to NBC’s latest battleground map, he could reach or surpass 270 electoral votes by either winning: 1) just Ohio; 2) a combination of Colorado, Nevada and New Hampshire; or 3) a combination New Hampshire and Virginia.

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But if Romney wins one of Iowa and Wisconsin, he widens his own path to 270 and limits Obama’s.

Tuesday’s debate has little impact
The surveys suggest that the most recent presidential debate, at Hofstra University in New York, had little impact on voters’ preferences. In both states, a whopping 95 percent of likely voters say they made up their minds before the debate.

Also, in the day prior to the debate, Obama was ahead of Romney in Iowa by nine points among likely voters, 52 percent to 43 percent. The day after, the lead was eight points, 51 percent to 43 percent.

Similarly, Obama was ahead in Wisconsin by five points on the day before the debate, 50 percent to 45 percent; the day after it was 51 percent to 45 percent.

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Breaking down the early vote
What especially seems to be helping Obama in Iowa is early voting. Thirty-four percent of likely voters in the poll say they have already cast their ballots, and the president is winning those people, 67 percent to 32 percent. Another 11 percent are planning to vote early, and he’s up among that group, 55 percent to 39 percent. But it’s reversed among Election Day voters: Romney is ahead, 54 percent to 39 percent.

In Wisconsin, just 15 percent say they have already voted or plan to vote early, and Obama leads among this group, 64 percent to 35 percent. Yet it’s even among Election Day voters, with Obama getting 48 percent and Romney at 47 percent.

Other findings in the polls:

  • The gender gap persists in both states: Obama holds a double-digit lead with women in Iowa (57 percent to 38 percent) and Wisconsin (57 percent to 39 percent), while Romney leads among men by single digits.
  • In both Iowa and Wisconsin, Obama’s job-approval rating among registered voters is at or near 50 percent among likely voters – 50 percent in Iowa and 49 percent in Wisconsin.
  • In both states, Romney’s favorable/unfavorable rating among registered voters improved from September – from 41 percent/47 percent to 46 percent/47 percent in Wisconsin, and from 40 percent/51 percent to 43 percent/51 percent in Iowa.
  • Also improving are attitudes about the nation’s direction. In Iowa, 48 percent of likely voters say the country is headed in the right direction, which is up five points from September. In Wisconsin, 45 percent believe it’s headed on the right track, up six points.
  • And in the competitive Senate contest in Wisconsin, the poll shows Democrat Tammy Baldwin leading Republican Tommy Thompson, 49 percent to 45 percent, among likely voters.

The NBC/WSJ/Marist polls were conducted Oct. 15-17. In Iowa, 1,137 likely voters were surveyed, and the margin of error is plus-minus 2.9 percentage points. And in Wisconsin, 1,013 likely voters were surveyed, and the margin of error is plus-minus 3.1 percentage points.

Also, the Iowa poll shows Democrats with a two-point party-identification advantage over Republicans; the 2008 exit poll had Democrats with a one-point edge. And the Wisconsin survey finds Democrats with a five-point advantage; in 2008, it was a Democratic six-point edge.

Reuters, Getty Images

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