Mitt Romney and President Obama are pretty close in national polls, but what really matters is who's winning in the right states. Right now, voters think Romney has better ideas for the economy -- but they don't know what they are. And while Americans want more guns, they also want more gays. Here's our guide to today's polls and why they matter.
Findings: Karl Rove has released his general election map looking at which states Obama and Romney will be fighting for this fall, and right now, he finds 17 states with a total of 225 Electoral College votes "up for grabs." But if you look at the map, there are a lot of important states leaning in favor of Obama, who can win reelection without winning Florida and Ohio.
Analyst: Karl Rove & Co.
Methodology: Polling averages.
Why it matters: Karl Rove has a pretty good track record with such maps, Slate's Dave Weigel writes: "In 2008, his week-to-week update of the electoral college map was spot-on, and correctly calculated the margin John McCain would lose by."
Caveat: Of course, everything Karl Rove writes about politics is viewed through the question of whether he's being sincere, or if he's saying the opposite of what he believes to mess with Democrats, or if, knowing that Democrats suspect him of messing with them, he's saying what he actually believes in order to double-mess with them like Vizzini in Princess Bride.
Findings: 61 percent of voters don't think Obama has a clear plan for fixing the economy, compared to 36 percent who do. But Romney doesn't do any better, really: 58 percent think the Republican doesn't have a clear plan for the economy, while 31 percent do.
Pollster: Fox News
Methodology: Survey of 915 registered voters April 22 to April 24.
Why it matters: Several polls have shown Obama's biggest weakness is the economy. An NBC/ Wall Street Journal poll last week showed, for example, that by a margin of 40 percent to 34 percent, voters think Romney would have better ideas for improving the economy. Perhaps they think he'd have good ideas, but they don't know what they are yet? Romney has started stealing an economic theme from Obama: "fairness."
Caveat: This poll had some questions that seem designed to rile people up. First it asked whether it was "fair" or a "cheap shot" for Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen to say Ann Romney had "never worked a day in her life." Then two related questions followed:
Findings: Americans want more guns and more gays. They have become more liberal on gay marriage -- 47 percent favor legalizing it and 22 percent strongly feel that way, while in 2008 those numbers were 39 percent and 14 percent respectively, and in 2004 they were 31 percent and 11 percent. But on another social issue, gun rights, they've become more conservative. Now 49 percent say it's more important to protect gun rights, while 45 percent say gun control is more important. Five years ago, those numbers were 32 percent and 60 percent, respectively.
Pollster: Pew Research Center
Methodology: Survey of 3,008 adults from April 4 to April 15.
Why it matters: If social issues become a part of the general election, we'll have a very different debate than we did in 2004. Maybe someday pandering candidates will cut ads with footage of them shooting targets with their gay best friends.
Caveat: While Pew's surveys have shown a steady increase in support for gay marriage, support for gun rights has bounced around a little more.
Findings: Obama is either 6 points ahead of, 3 points behind, or tied with Romney nationally.
Pollster: Gallup; Rasmussen, Fox News
Methodology: Tracking poll of at least 2,200 registered voters from April 20 to April 24; tracking poll of 500 likely voters from April 23 to April 25; poll of 915 registered voters April 22 to April 24.
Why it matters: We want to know who's winning!
Caveat: It's early.