Poll Watch: Obama and Romney tied on economy in new polls

A raft of new polls, all reporting fairly similar numbers, underscores two critical facts about where the presidential race stands: President Obama has emerged from the back-to-back conventions having erased the edge that Republican challenger Mitt Romney had enjoyed on the economy and holds a small, but consistent, lead.

The Gallup, ABC/Washington Post, CNN/ORC and Rasmussen surveys showed Obama with 48% to 52% of the vote in a hypothetical match-up with Romney. The Republican’s strength varied from 44% to 48%. Obama appears to have gained about three percentage points since the Democratic convention, while Romney gained little, if any, ground after his convention.

Some years, a candidate’s support rises in polls after his convention but then fades. In other years, however, the increase becomes a lasting part of the race. A three-point gain would put Obama in about the same position as George W. Bush in the 2004 campaign. In Gallup’s surveys, Bush gained two points after his 2004 convention, took a small lead over the Democratic nominee, Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry, and held it for the rest of the fall campaign.

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Through most of the year, Romney has enjoyed a significant edge as the candidate voters think would be better at handling the economy. Romney’s campaign has been pretty much built on the assumption that voters will view him that way.


In these post-convention surveys, however, that edge has disappeared. In the ABC/Washington Post poll, for example, Obama now leads on that question, with 47% of registered voters saying he would be better, compared with 45% siding with Romney. In the CNN/ORC survey Obama held a one-point lead on that question.

A tie on the question of economic stewardship would be an important advantage for Obama because he leads on most other questions testing candidate attributes. Polls consistently have shown that voters rate him more highly than Romney on handling foreign affairs, for example. Similarly, he leads when voters are asked questions about empathy. In the ABC/Washington Post survey, for example, Obama held a 10-point edge on the question of which candidate “better understands the economic problems people in this country are having.”

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Some of the new surveys, most notably the ABC/Washington Post poll, showed a gap between Obama’s lead among all registered voters and those deemed likely voters. In that survey, Obama led 50%-44% among registered voters, but 49%-48% among likely voters.

That gap illustrates the importance that turnout – and particularly the racial makeup of the turnout – probably will play in the election results. Each poll uses somewhat different techniques to estimate which voters are most likely actually to cast ballots, but one result is fairly constant: Democratic-leaning voters, who tend to be younger and members of racial minorities, are less certain to vote than are Republican-leaning voters. Because of that, a large turnout, such as the one in 2008, would tend to favor Obama.

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Minority voters – Latinos in particular – tend to vote less regularly than do whites. In the ABC/Washington Post survey, whites made up about 77% of the registered voter sample, but 79% of likely voters. Obama campaign officials hope minority voters will make up a larger share of the actual turnout than that.

One important clue on possible turnout came in a separate release of data by Gallup: their weekly update on how groups within the electorate vary, which is based on the huge samples they obtain from their nightly tracking poll. The data show that the percentage of Latinos who say they expect to vote this year has risen significantly over the last month. Currently, 68% of Latinos say they are certain to vote, the highest level of the year.

Obama, who leads Romney 64%-27% among Latinos in Gallup’s sample, is dependent on a large Latino turnout to carry some key swing states, including Colorado, Nevada and Florida.

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Twitter: @DavidLauter