The best news for Obama, of course, is that he leads in all three states Quinnipiac surveyed: Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio. If Obama captures any two of those three, he almost certainly will win reelection.
But while the surveys show Obama leading Romney, they also place the president below 50 percent in all three states, both in his share of the vote and his job approval rating. In Ohio, the results on both fronts (47 percent vote share, 48 percent approval) are actually encouraging for the president. In Florida, probably the longest reach of the three states for him this fall, the numbers are equivocal: 45 percent of the vote, and 47 percent approval. In Pennsylvania, the numbers should be flat-out worrisome for the Obama campaign: both his vote share and approval rating stand at just 45 percent. That in a state where Obama last time captured over 54 percent of the vote.
Below the top lines, the surveys show deeply entrenched patterns of support that also offer each man reason for both optimism and concern. All three surveys show Obama maintaining solid support from two central pillars of the modern Democratic coalition: minority voters and college-educated white women, according to figures provided by Quinnipiac's Douglas Schwartz and April Radocchio.
Among all non-white voters, the surveys found, Obama now leads Romney 83 percent to 6 percent in Ohio; 77 percent to 14 percent in Pennsylvania; and 66 percent to 28 percent in Florida, a solid performance given the traditionally GOP-leaning tilt of the state's large Cuban-American population.
Obama also holds solid leads in all three states among college-educated white women, the most Democratic-leaning component of the white electorate. Among those women, he draws 50 percent in Pennsylvania, 51 percent in Florida, and 58 percent in Ohio. Except for one earlier result in Pennsylvania, Obama has led Romney among those women in all three states each of the past three times Quinnipiac has polled them.
Yet among the remainder of the white electorate Obama continues to face entrenched resistance in all three states, the survey found. He attracts only 32 percent of non-college white men in Florida, 33 percent in Pennsylvania and 37 percent in Ohio. He does little better among non-college white women, the so-called waitress moms: 32 percent in Florida, 38 percent in Pennsylvania, and 39 percent in Ohio. All of those numbers have shown little movement in the past three Quinnipiac surveys in those states.
Obama draws about the same share among college-educated white men, attracting 35 percent of them in Florida, 39 percent in Ohio and 40 percent in Pennsylvania. Romney now holds a double-digit advantage among those men in all three states.
Combined with Obama's commanding numbers among minorities, and solid support among college-educated white women, those modest (at best) numbers among the remaining whites are enough to provide the president his leads in all three states. But the surveys contain one final warning sign for the president.
It's a truism in politics that a significant majority of voters still undecided close to Election Day usually break against the incumbent. It's too early to lean very heavily on that yardstick, but the surveys do pinpoint the challenge Obama will face winning the last few percentage points he will need to capture any of these states. At National Journal's request, Quinnipiac calculated Obama's approval rating among voters in all three states who said they were undecided or intended to vote for someone other than Obama and Romney. In each state, those uncommitted voters (around 15 percent of the electorate in each case) expressed strongly negative views of Obama's performance. In Florida, just 33 percent of them approved of his performance. In Ohio, just 27 percent approved. Pennsylvania was toughest of all: just 23 percent approved.
The saving grace for Obama? Those voters today think even less of Romney. Among these undecided voters in Florida, just eight percent view Romney favorably-compared to 41 percent who are unfavorable toward him. In Ohio, the ratio is 10 percent to 47 percent; in Pennsylvania, it's 12 percent to 45 percent. Obama's favorable ratings aren't much better with those voters, but they are higher in all three states. Both men today appear to be standing in a hole with the voters who could ultimately decide which one of them gets over the top in November.