Tonight's third and final 2012 presidential debate will feature 90 minutes on foreign policy -- an extremely important set of issues, of course, but not a subject area that sits atop voters' list of concerns this year. As President Obama and Governor Romney enter tonight's third-round bout, a cross-section of polls are converging to cement a clear pre-debate trend: The Republican challenger has established a modest lead over the incumbent nationally, while building momentum in critical battleground states. Let's take a peek at some of the data:
(1) Rasmussen and Gallup - The two primary daily tracking polls both show Romney in the lead among likely voters. Rasmussen pegs Romney's edge at two points (49/47), while Gallup again shows a larger cushion (51/45). The GOP candidate has held a lead of greater than five points in this poll for more than a week. For the third straight day, Rasmussen's (slightly more volatile) swing state tracker shows Romney out front by a handful of points. Today, it's 49/46.
(2) NBC/WSJ - This national survey has consistently been among least kind to Republicans in recent months, yet it can't avoid picking up on the emerging trend. Dan covered this poll yesterday; it shows a 47/47 tie. As NBC's Chuck Todd says, sitting at 47 percent two weeks out isn't a position of strength for an incumbent president:
(3) Politico/GWU - Romney has vaulted out to a (slight) lead in this poll for the first time, at 49/47. The partisan sample is D+4, which is generally reasonable, but might overstate Democrats' turnout edge by a hair. In the poll's swing state sub-sample, Romney leads by the exact same margin, but hits the 50 percent mark. Ed Morrissey says the survey's internals paint a slightly rosier picture for the GOP ticket:
Two keys suggest Romney’s doing better than his toplines. First, he’s winning the gender gap. Romney gets a +10 among men, while Obama gets a +8 among women, for a +2 advantage for Romney. In 2008, Obama had a +14 gender gap advantage over John McCain. Obama wins single women, but is getting clobbered among married women, 42/55. Romney’s also leading among women without children overall, 50/46, suggesting that women who already know how to access birth control aren’t terribly concerned about it as an election issue. The second key is age demographics. Obama has a 30-point lead among voters 34 years and younger, but that’s his only win. He and Romney tie among 35-44YOs at 48 each, but Romney has double digit leads among 45-64YOs (54/44) and seniors (58/38). Those last two demographics are the most likely to vote in the election.
Younger voters tend to be the most pro-Obama cohort -- but they're also the most disillusioned group, and are less likely to vote than any other demographic. Team Romney would happily accept a double-digit loss among millenials if they can lock up large margins among older voters.
(4) Monmouth University - Romney 48, Obama 45. The three point Romney edge in the top line is nice, but again, the sitting president at 45 percent is the bigger result. How does the Republican build his advantage? Carrying independents handily on every major question. Here are a few examples, indies only:
Head-to-head: Romney 52, Obama 33
Favorability: Romney +22, Obama -15
Economy and jobs: Romney 57, Obama 34
Medicare and Social Security: Romney 53, Obama 33
Budget and deficits: Romney 57, Obama 29
Foreign Policy: Romney 49, Obama 39
Monmouth's overall sample was D+4, which explains the relatively close top line outcome. Let's close with a quick look at fresh state polls:
The first two surveys are from Rasmussen; the Ohio data is from the firm Angus Reid, whose Buckeye State results closely mirror two additional polls that came out yesterday. National Review's "numbers muncher, Josh Jordan, explains why the Ohio data may be stronger for Romney than meets the eye. (Hint -- Partisan samples and independents):
The poll from Gravis Marketing shows Obama and Romney tied at 47 percent. But that’s as good as it gets for Obama. Among the most interesting tidbits from the poll: Romney leads Obama by 19 percent among independents, 52–33, and holds 92 percent of his base compared to Obama’s 87 percent. Obama is underwater in job approval, 44–50, and independents disapprove of him overwhelmingly, 31–58.
The Gravis poll is a D+9 and PPP's is D+8. This assumes that the 2012 electorate will be more Democratic than 2008, an assumption that seems inoperative, given the early voting tightening. Quinnipiac also released an Ohio poll today, showing Obama ahead by 5 points. Despite its ludicrous D+9 breakdown, the survey shows Romney gaining. Don't forget, it was the Q-poll that all but declared the race over in Florida, Ohio and Virginia late last month. Oops. In short, with nearly two weeks left until election day, Republicans have ample reason to be optimistic. Maybe not quite this optimistic, though. The race is nip-and-tuck, and one never knows when the trajectory might shift again. Tonight is the last head-to-head event leading up to November 6, and therefore may present the president with his best shot at re-shuffling the deck.
UPDATE - More red flags for Team O from that NBC/WSJ poll. A large majority of voters say that if Obama is re-elected, they want to see him dramatically alter his policies:
He's basically been running a "stay the course" campaign ("we've come too far," etc), so voters have plenty of reason to doubt the president's ability to, well, change.
UPDATE II - Hey look, another Ohio poll showing the race exactly tied.
Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson. He is co-authors with Mary Katharine Ham for their new book End of Discussion: How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).
Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography