A new CBS News/New York Times/Quinnipiac University swing state poll finds President Barack Obama leading Gov. Mitt Romney by 6 percentage points or more in Florida (51–45), Ohio (50–44), and Pennsylvania (53–42). Differences of 6 points in Florida and Ohio and 11 points in Pennsylvania are statistically significant.
The question asked of likely voters was, “If the election for president were being held today, and the candidates were Barack Obama the Democrat and Mitt Romney the Republican, for whom would you vote?”
Significantly, the president attained or surpassed the 50 percent mark among the likely voters in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
These states are critical in the presidential election. “No one has been elected president of the United States since 1960 without carrying at least two of the three,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. He spoke Aug. 1 at the National Press Club to release the poll results.
Romney’s results come up especially short among women voters. While he tends to edge out Obama among men likely voters, Obama has a lopsided advantage with women likely voters in Ohio, where he leads 58 to 37 percent, and Pennsylvania, 59 to 35 percent. Obama’s advantage with women voters in Florida, 51–44, is less pronounced, although he is leading Romney with Florida’s men voters, 50–46.
Romney is strongest among likely voters in Florida on the perception of who best could handle the economy. But even on the question about economy, the president pulls about even with the governor in each of the three swing states: Florida, 45–47; Ohio, 46–45; and Pennsylvania, 48–44.
The tri-state poll indicates much discontent with Obama’s economic policies, with roughly 43 percent saying that the economy will never improve. Further, roughly 38 percent said that if Barack Obama is re-elected, their personal financial situation will worsen compared to roughly one-quarter who said it will improve.
This poll also found that the overall approval of Obama’s job performance is only about 48 percent.
Be that as it may, Romney could not capitalize on that discontent in this poll. When asked if Mitt Romney has the right kind of business experience to get the economy creating jobs again, or if Romney’s kind of business experience is too focused on making profits, roughly half said the latter.
Nationally, the race is tight. RealClearPolitics’s average of nine reputable national polls during the period of July 9 to Aug. 3 puts the race at a 3-point advantage for Obama (47.4–44.4). The focus of the campaigns, however, has been on the battleground states: Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are critical for the Electoral College.
The large point advantage for Obama in this poll may be a consequence of the heavy advertising that these particular states have been subjected to.
Favorable vs. Unfavorable
Among the issues—national security, health care, budget deficit, taxes, immigration—the economy is cited by roughly 50 percent of likely voters as the most important issue, with the next most important issue being health care, chosen by roughly 21 percent.
However, the economy is only one factor of the voters’ consideration for making a choice. The percentage of voters with a favorable opinion of Romney (Florida, 41; Ohio, 40; Pennsylvania, 39) is relatively low. His percent “unfavorable” in these swing states is larger than his percent “favorable.” While Obama has roughly the same unfavorable percentages as the governor, the president enjoys a substantially higher favorable rating (Florida, 50; Ohio, 51, Pennsylvania, 53).
Most people have made up their minds about whether they like Obama or not, with only 2 percent saying they have not heard enough to form an opinion. By contrast, Romney has 14 percent in Florida, 15 percent in Ohio, and 11 percent in Pennsylvania who say they have not heard enough to have a favorable or unfavorable opinion. That group without a formed opinion gives the governor an opportunity to make some headway.
The poll asked, “Would you say that Mitt Romney cares about the needs and problems of people like you or not?” A comparison of the percent who said ‘Yes’ to those who said ‘No’ indicates that Romney has an image problem: Florida, 42–49; Ohio, 38–55; and Pennsylvania, 39–54.
By contrast, Obama appears to voters as having more empathy. His percentages of ‘Yes’ to ‘No’ were: Florida, 55–42; Ohio, 55–43; and Pennsylvania, 58–39.
The majority of likely voters in the three swing states said that presidential candidates should publicly release several years of tax returns, a position that Romney has resisted.
Brown said that Romney needs to win both Ohio and Florida or it will be hard for him to win the majority of the electoral vote. Obama could lose either one and still win, said Brown, who has covered 11 national political conventions and presidential campaigns between 1976 and 1996, and has more than 30 years of experience as a political journalist.
Nevertheless, Brown emphasized that the election is still almost 100 days away, and a lot can change in just 30 days. Romney’s pick for vice president, the party conventions, and the debates could have a major effect on voters, he said.
The margin of error for percentages reported in the survey is +/- 2.9 percent in Florida and Pennsylvania and +/- 2.8 percent in Ohio.
Quinnipiac, like other major polls, does not use party registration to correct for sample bias. People may change their identification without changing their party registration, explains Douglas Schwartz, director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, and so it is not a reliable variable to use. Instead, Quinnipiac uses demographics that do not change--age, gender, and race--to weight the samples.
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