President Obama pulls ahead of Mitt Romney
By: James Hohmann
September 24, 2012 04:34 AM EDT
President Barack Obama has opened a national lead in a tight race that’s been static for much of the year.
A new POLITICO/George Washington University Battleground Poll of likely voters finds little good news for Mitt Romney but a race that remains competitive.
Obama leads 50 percent to 47 percent, which is within the margin of error. His 50 percent job approval rating puts him at a crucial threshold for an incumbent seeking reelection. It’s an uptick from the spring and summer, but 48 percent still disapprove.
Romney, meanwhile, finds himself sliding in the wake of two events — the choice of his running mate and the Republican national convention — that were supposed to buoy his candidacy. His unfavorable rating ticked up from 46 percent to 49 percent over the past seven weeks, as the share viewing him favorably held steady at 46 percent. Personal likability boosts the president, who is viewed favorably by 53 percent.
“The window is narrowing for Romney, and he’s in deep, deep trouble,” Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, who helped conduct the bipartisan poll, said Sunday. “Ultimately, people don’t like this guy. If they don’t like someone, it’s hard to get people to vote for him — particularly to fire someone they do like.”
The universe of voters who might change their mind also has shrunk significantly. One in five supporting a candidate said they’d consider someone else last month. Now it’s closer to one in 10. Regardless of who they’re supporting, 60 percent now expect Obama to win. Democrats say this will fuel late Obama momentum. Republicans think pro-Obama turnout could drop off if people expect him to win.
The poll’s Republican pollster, Ed Goeas of the Tarrance Group, notes that Romney is winning independents by 2 points.
“Our original premise that this was going to be a very close race is just reinforced with most of this data,” he said. “This race is far from over.”
Obama now ties or has an edge over Romney on who is best to handle every major issue except the federal budget and spending.
Romney has lost his edge on jobs. A month ago, he led Obama by 6 points on the question of who is best equipped to put Americans back to work. Now they’re even. Among those who say creating jobs is their top priority, Obama’s up 11 points.
A slight majority disapproves of the way Obama’s handling the economy, yet he narrowly leads Romney on who is better to manage it.
Approval for Obama’s tax policy has risen from 46 to 51 percent in the last month, and Obama has a 4-point edge on who will better handle the issue after the two tied in the previous poll.
“For the first time in decades, Democrats have persistently had an advantage on taxes,” said Lake.
The Democrat has also expanded his advantage on Medicare. He leads Romney by 9 points, 52 percent to 43 percent, on who can better handle the entitlement program. The president had a 4-point edge in the week before Romney announced Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as his running mate.
Obama’s edge on foreign policy has diminished over the course of the year, but 50 percent still approve. A 15-point lead in August has shrunk to 9.
The POLITICO poll was in the field from last Sunday through Thursday during the kerfuffle over Romney’s “47 percent” comments. Obama leads Romney by 19 points, 57 percent to 38 percent, on the question of who stands up best for the middle class — up 5 points from last month.
Goeas argues that Romney is holding his own with middle-class voters, even if Democrats have won the messaging war. Overall, the race is tied at 48 percent among those who describe themselves as part of the middle class — which is three in four voters. Goeas said that Romney leads by 14 percent among “middle-class families,” which he defines as households with either a married couple and/or kids still at home.
The gender gap has tightened somewhat. Obama leads among women by 9 percent (53 to 44) and trails among men by 6 percent (51 to 45). Romney’s support among men has slipped slightly, but his standing with women has improved.
Among married voters, Romney wins 55 percent to 41 percent. Obama wins single voters 67 percent to 28 percent. Among those no longer married — close to 20 percent of the sample — Obama wins 55 percent to 42 percent.
More think the country’s headed in the right direction – 37 percent – than at any time since the spring of 2010. Only 57 percent believe the country’s on the wrong track. One year ago, 72 percent thought so.
Eighty percent call themselves “extremely” likely to vote, up from 73 percent last month. Independents have driven this increase, as they tuned in after Labor Day.
“That’s normally what you get in the final days, usually the final weekend of the campaign,” Goeas said. “So we’re now looking at an extremely engaged electorate — whether you’re a Republican, Democrat or independent.”
“Turnout is not going to be as lopsided as it was in 2008,” he added. “It may or may not be as even as it was in 2004. But there’s a lot more to play out in this campaign, as opposed to saying the curtain is coming down in the first week of October.”
The problem for Romney is that he’s now exhausted two of his three major opportunities to win over new voters. Picking Ryan has not discernibly shifted the dynamics of the race, and the GOP convention did not shift voter attitudes.
The biggest remaining opportunity comes in the three debates, the first of which takes place Oct. 3 in Denver. About eight in 10 voters said they plan to watch all or some of the debates. More than half dismiss the debates as not at all or only a little important. Just one quarter say they will be extremely or very important.
Lake suggested Obama will have put the election away if he is running even with Romney on who is best for jobs and the economy in the poll POLITICO conducts after that Oct. 3 debate and the release of September jobs numbers two days later.
The vice presidential debate on Oct. 11 will be most important for Ryan because more than one in five voters have still not formulated an opinion about him. He’s viewed favorably by 41 percent and unfavorably by 37 percent at this point. Vice President Joe Biden is narrowly underwater, with a 43 percent favorable rating and a 45 percent unfavorable.
Hostility toward Obama drives less of the enthusiasm for Romney than before. Last month, 52 percent said they supported Romney because they considered it a vote against Obama. Now it’s 42 percent. Nearly half of Romney supporters say they are voting for Romney as opposed to against Obama. This suggests that the Obama campaign’s efforts to make the election more a choice between two candidates than a referendum on the vulnerable president have succeeded to some degree.
The rising Obama tide is lifting congressional Democrats, who now lead Republicans 47 percent to 45 percent on the generic congressional ballot. Republicans led by 3 points, 45 percent to 42 percent, in August.
Two-thirds of voters name pocketbook issues — the economy, jobs and government spending — as paramount.
Medicare and Social Security have been the focus of millions in advertising by both sides, but they have not grown as top concerns for voters. Democrats say Ryan’s budget plan would ruin Medicare. Republicans say Obama’s health care overhaul cut Medicare by $716 billion. Yet only 7 percent of voters say Medicare and Social Security are the most important issues, exactly the same as in the last poll before the Ryan pick. Among voters 65 and older, Romney leads 58 percent to 38 percent.
“The bottom line is seniors are overwhelmingly voting for Republicans by even bigger margins than we’ve seen in past years,” Goeas said.
The POLITICO/George Washington University Battleground poll, conducted by the Tarrance Group and Lake Research Partners, surveyed 1,000 registered likely voters from Sept. 16 to Sept. 20 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.