A new poll from USA Today/Gallup finds the candidates equally favorable heading into tonight's debate, Romney's up by as much as four points in two polls, but Obama's up by three in another, Pennsylvania is looking closer, and rural swing state voters are going big for Romney. Here's our guide to today's polls and why they matter.  

Findings: According to a USA Today/Gallup poll 51 percent of voters find Obama favorable, and 52 percent of voters find Romney favorable.
Pollster: USA Today/Gallup
Methodology: Telephone interviews with 891 registered voters October 10 through 11 with a margin of error of +/-4 percentage points.
Why it matters: The two candidates are heading into the debate tonight with similarly favorable standings among voters. Jeffrey M. Jones of Gallup points out that the results show that there was "minimal change" after the first debate, which is "notable particularly for Obama, whose debate performance was widely panned, suggesting little damage to his image among the electorate, even though the race has tightened a little since then." He added: "It is also notable that Romney's favorable ratings did not improve much among voters even though he was widely considered the winner of that debate." 
Caveat: Jones writes: "Romney's unfavorable ratings among registered voters are slightly lower than Obama's, partly because Obama is better known, and more have an opinion -- positive or negative -- of the president." 


Findings: Obama is down by four percentage points in both the Public Policy Polling/Daily Kos/SEIU poll and the Gallup tracking poll. That said, he's up by three percentage points in the Reuters/Ipsos poll. 
Pollster: Public Policy Polling for Daily Kos/SEIU, Gallup, Reuters/Ipsos 
Methodology: For PPP: Poll of 1,600 likely voters October 12 through 14 and a +/-2.5 percent margin of error. For Gallup: Daily tracking. For Reuters/Ipsos: Online daily tracking. 
Why it matters: Those first two polls mentioned are pretty grim for Obama. At Business Insider Brett LoGiurato wrote that the liberal Daily Kos poll "contains what is so far the worst news of the week for President Barack Obama." Meanwhile, at Gallup Romney has expanded his lead by two points. Reuters has the glimmer of hope. Per Deborah Charles: "the poll showed the number of undecided voters had increased, indicating a drop of support for Romney among the coveted voting bloc." 
Caveat: A "demographic note" from the liberal site Daily Kos "in this poll, 44 percent of respondents were conservative, compared to 16 percent who were liberal. In 2008, 34 percent were conservative, and 22 percent were liberal. Now this could point to a bad sample, or it could point to depressed enthusiasm among our base." 


Findings: Obama only holds Pennsylvania by four points. 
Pollster: Quinnipiac 
Methodology: Telephone interviews (cell and landline) with 1,519 likely Pennsylvania voters October 12 through 14 and a +/-2.5 percent margin of error.
Why it matters: Romney has made Pennsylvania a lot tighter than it had been: last month in the Quinnipiac poll he led by 12 points. Overall he is up by five in the state.
Caveat: A senior Romney adviser told Alexander Burns of Politico: “I won't blow smoke at you with Pennsylvania and Michigan, even though there are polls showing that they’re in sight.”


Findings: Romney has a 22 point lead among rural voters.
Pollster: Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and North Star Opinion Research for the Center for Rural Strategies 
Methodology: Poll of 600 likely voters in rural counties of nine swing states and a +/-4 percentage point margin of error.
Why it matters: Though rural areas are typically Republican, Alan Bjerga at Bloomberg points out that Democrats try to "at least be competitive so small-town voters don’t offset their advantage in cities." Obama though is looking very weak in this poll. Howard Berkes at NPR explains that last month a "similar rural survey" gave Romney only a fourteen point lead and pollsters agree it was the debate that set Obama back. 
Caveat: Perhaps another debate could at least shift things back to where they were before the last one? Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg is not giving up hope according to NPR, saying there are still "issues that are contested in rural areas" and  "It is possible [for Obama] to battle back." That said, the Republican pollster Dan Judy thinks it's going to take something "catastrophic" from Romney in the debates to lose what they've gained.