3) Electoral map is shrinking, not expanding.
Despite earlier predictions by the Romney campaign that they would be competitive in traditionally blue states like Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania, they are putting no serious effort into any of them. Moreover, the Paul Ryan pick gave Romney only a short-lived bounce in Wisconsin. The latest polls in the Badger State show Obama with a healthy advantage in the state.
This has left Romney has a very narrow path to 270, and no room for error. If Romney loses Ohio and Wisconsin, he would have no choice but to win almost every single other battleground state to win.
4) Romney's image problem.
Thanks to the efforts of millions of dollars of negative advertising over the summer by Obama and his allies, and little to no effort by Romney to rebut them, Romney entered the fall campaign with more people feeling unfavorably toward him than favorably. Voters see Obama as better able to understand the economic problems of regular people and more in tune with the concerns of the middle class.
5) The Money Gap
Obama's $181 million haul last month is impressive. More important, however, is the fact that his campaign has been smart in how they spend it. As the New York Times reported last week, the Obama team has been able to stretch their dollars further thanks to a sophisticated ad buying strategy. This has meant that even as Republicans (Romney plus the outside independent groups supporting him) have outspent the Democrats (Obama plus his independent group allies) by more than $40 million on TV ads since April, Obama and his allies have run 35,000 more ads. Outside groups have to pay a higher rate for ads than the campaigns do. This means that these groups have to spend a lot more money to get the same number of ads on the air.
Despite Obama's structural advantages, this race is far from over. Economic enthusiasm/anxiety is impacted by more than unemployment statistics or the value of the stock market. Partisanship matters too. Over the course of September, the Gallup consumer confidence found that while both independents and Democrats felt more optimistic about the economy, Republicans felt less so. The Bloomberg Survey found the uptick in confidence this month to be bi-partisan, but they also found that independents felt the "most bleak" about the state of the economy.
Moreover, confidence in Obama's ability to handle the economy can be undermined by politics too. Approval of his handling of the economy ticked up right after the Democratic convention. A poor performance on, say, the debate stage could drive it back down.
Romney can't control the trajectory of the economy. But, he can move perceptions about himself and his abilities to steward this economy.
When looking at polling that will come out over the next week, it's important not to obsess as much about the head to head numbers and to look "under the hood" instead. Has Romney moved ahead of Obama on the issue of who voters trust to do a better job handling the economy? Look also to see if he has improved his favorable ratings and moved the needle on perceptions of him as someone who is looking out for the middle class. After all, it's very hard for Romney to convince Americans to fire the President if they don't think the alternative will be any better.
The battleground state polling is just as important to watch. Even before the debate there were signs that Obama's convention bounce was starting to fade in places like Virginia and Florida. But, in Ohio and Wisconsin, Romney needs to do more get undecided voters -- voters who are already open to the idea of voting against Obama -- to support him. He has to convince those who are currently supporting Obama to switch allegiances. For the next month it's probably best to keep that ibuprofen handy for any pangs of whiplash. But, if you keep your focus on the fundamentals, it'll probably go away on its own.