Polls: Obama Maintains Small National Lead

Guy Benson
Posted: Oct 01, 2012 1:40 PM

As the presidential debates are set to kick off this week, Barack Obama continues to hold a modest national lead over Mitt Romney.  Here are the top-line numbers among likely voters in three new polls:

Washington Post/ABC News - Obama 49, Romney 47

Politico/GWU - Obama 49, Romney 47

Rasmussen - Obama 50, Romney 47 (includes leaners)

Digging a little deeper, the WaPo/ABC News poll shows a virtually-tied national race, but has Obama up by eleven in the swing states.  This makes little sense.  Obama is expected to clean up in non-swing states with the largest populations: California, New York and Illinois.  Texas will off-set some of that, and Romney will run strong in the South.  But Obama will cancel much of that out with wins in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest.  This pollster wants us to believe that the race is nip-and-tuck overall, but a blowout in places like Florida and Ohio.  Keep in mind that this purported gigantic battleground advantage (this would require substantially increasing his margins over 2008) is baked into Obama's national total, meaning that for the math to work, Romney must be absolutely dominating everywhere besides the swing states and giant blue states.  One poll-watcher emails that based on WaPo's overall sample, the "swing state" sub-sample is likely approximately 150 voters.  Total.  If that's the case, the margin of error on that seb-sect's results is massive, to the point of being useless.

The Politico poll contains more mixed results.  Romney leads on the economy, jobs, the deficit and on which candidate can "get things done."  You'd think that'd be enough to push the Republican over the top, but no: Obama leads on other issues, including an expanding advantage on foreign policy -- despite, well, everything  (for what it's worth, this contradicts the recent Bloomberg poll).  Crucially, Obama maintains a likeability edge over Romney, who remains underwater, particularly among women.  The GOP nominee has also nudged his lead with independents higher and enjoys large advantages on the top issues among this group:

Obama is trailing slightly with independents. In 2008, the Democrat carried them by 7 percent — the same margin as his overall victory. But right now, he’s softer on the individual issues than is reflected in the head-to-head matchup, which shows him behind by 4 points with independents. Romney has a 14-point edge on jobs and an 11-point edge on the economy among independent voters. More than 60 percent disapprove of Obama’s handling of the economy and spending. Romney even has a slight advantage on taxes. He ties the president on who is the stronger leader and leads by 9 points on who has the best ability to get things done.

Ed Morrissey and Jim Geragthy note two other interesting trends in this poll: Democrats' intensity has slipped back behind Republicans', and the national right track/wrong track disparity looks less horrific than it has over the last few years.  Why? 

One of the factors that is striking about recent polling is the intense divide on perceptions of how the country is doing. In the Battleground poll: "Among all likely voters, 56 percent say the country is on the wrong track. This number has fallen because 72 percent of Democrats and 73 percent of African-Americans now say the country is on the right track. Yet two in three independents still think the country’s on the wrong track." The term “faith-based initiative” comes to mind.

These are the liberals who sneer at conservatives and pat themselves on the back for inhabiting the "reality based community."  I suppose "reality" and "right track"  are relative terms. Rasmussen's daily tracker is nearly identical to the WaPo and Politico results; Romney trails by a few points, within the margin of error.  One key result about undecided voters reflects what other pollsters have also found, which could be an 'x-factor' in November:

Among voters who are uncommitted to either of the leading candidates, just 10% believe the country is heading in the right direction. Only 24% approve of the way the president is performing his job.

The Romney campaign sent out an Ohio polling memo this morning, pointing to a survey out of the  Buckeye State that shows Obama's lead at four points.  The Democratic pollster (PPP) warns, "It's a mistake to think based on recent polling in Ohio that the race there is over. Obama is not popular in the state.”  One cohort where Obama is in deep trouble is, once again, undecided voters.  Here's Team Romney citing PPP statistics:

Undecided voters overwhelmingly disapprove of Obama. Among those still undecided on the election, just 13% approve and 65% disapprove of Obama. Mitt Romney has a huge pool of undecided voters to talk to in October who have already concluded that Obama has done a poor job in office.

With nearly five weeks until election day, it appears as though Mitt Romney trails slightly -- both nationally and in swing states. (Two recent Virginia polls have shown the presidential race in a virtual tie, further refuting WaPo's contention that Obama is running away in contested states).  The GOP ticket has four debates to help shift the dynamics and close the deal with a group of undecided voters who hold extraordinarily negative views of Obama's job performance.  Romney's ground game metrics are much stronger than McCain's were four years ago, which is also significant because much more so than the wave elections of 2008 and 2010, this is going to be a turnout election.  If the Obama campaign and their allies can discourage Republican leaners and convince a large slice of the embittered undecideds not to show up, they'll win.

UPDATE - An interesting data point mined by walking political encyclopedia Michael Barone:

In addition, it's getting much harder for pollsters to get people to respond to interviews. The Pew Research Center reports that it's getting only 9 percent of the people it contacts to respond to its questions. That's compared with 36 percent in 1997. Are those 9 percent representative of the larger population? As that percentage declines, it seems increasingly possible that the sample is unrepresentative of the much larger voting public. One thing a poll can't tell us is the opinion of people who refuse to be polled.

UPDATE - Jennifer Rubin has confirmed that WaPo's "swing states" sub-sample was...160 people, with an eight-point margin of error.

UPDATE II - A new CNN poll pegs the race at 50-47 for Obama, a three-point shift toward Romney since their last poll.  This survey has a D+8 partisan sample (more Democrats than 2008), and shows Romney leading by eight points among independents, and by six on fixing unemployment.  Food for thought: