President Barack Obama holds a narrow advantage over presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney in three of the most pivotal presidential battleground states -- Florida, Ohio and Virginia -- according to new NBC-Marist polls.
But in each of these states, Obama's share of the vote is below the 50 percent threshold usually considered safe haven for an incumbent president, and Romney has narrowed the margin in these three battlegrounds since earlier this year.
In Florida and Virginia, Obama leads Romney by an identical four-point margin, 48 percent to 44 percent, among registered voters, including those who are undecided but leaning toward a particular candidate.
In Ohio, the president is ahead by six points, 48 percent to 42 percent.
In March NBC-Marist polls -- conducted during the middle of the GOP primary season -- Obama led Romney by 12 points in Ohio (50 percent to 38 percent), and by a whopping 17 points in Virginia (52 percent to 35 percent). In January, Obama was ahead of Romney by eight points (49 percent to 41 percent).
Benefiting Obama in these three states is a sense that the economy has improved. Majorities in all three battlegrounds believe that the worst is behind us, rather than the worst is yet to come. That said, 40 percent or less think that the economy will get better in the next year.
Also helping the president is the notion that he inherited the current economic conditions, a belief held by a strong majority of respondents in each state: 56 percent in Florida, and 57 percent in both Ohio and Virginia.
And then there's the gender gap. Romney holds a narrow lead with men in all three states. But Obama has a double-digit edge among women (10 points in Florida and Virginia, and 12 points in Ohio).
Obama's approval rating among registered voters is 49 percent in Ohio and Virginia and 48 percent in Florida -- essentially matching his head-to-head percentages against Romney.
But what's hurting the president -- and helping Romney -- is a sense that the country is on wrong track.
Nearly six in 10 respondents in all three states (55 percent in Ohio, 57 percent in Florida, and 58 percent in Virginia) agree with that pessimistic sentiment.
Yet both Romney and Obama essentially fight to a draw in all three states on the question of which candidate will do a better job handling the economy.
The NBC-Marist polls also make this clear: Adding potential home-state politicians to the Romney ticket doesn't change the results much in these battleground states.
An Obama-Biden ticket vs. one featuring Romney and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio produces the same head-to-head result in Florida -- 48 percent to 44 percent. But Romney adding former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush narrows it to a two-point Democratic lead, 47 percent to 45 percent.
In Ohio, an Obama-Biden ticket beats one featuring Romney and Sen. Rob Portman, 47 percent to 42 percent.
And in Virginia, the Democratic duo bests a GOP ticket with Gov. Bob McDonnell, 46 percent to 44 percent.
All three NBC-Marist polls were conducted May 17-20. The Florida survey was taken of 1,078 registered voters, and it has a margin of error of plus-minus 3.0 percentage points.
The Ohio poll was taken of 1,103 registered voters, and has a margin of error of plus-minus 3.0 percentage points. And the Virginia survey was taken of 1,076 registered voters, and also has a margin of error of plus-minus 3.0 percentage points.
Copyright 2015 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.