Going into tonight’s high-stakes Presidential debate, a new poll finds Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney substantially closing in on President Barack Obama in Pennyslvania — as a top analyst reports that Democrats now seem increasingly worried about Obama’s previous lead in Ohio.
Meanwhile, a new Gallup poll finds that a)voters are equally favorable towards Obama and Romney, b)polling numbers on Obama and Romney have changed little since May.
Gov. Mitt Romney has narrowed a 12-point gap with President Barack Obama and now trails the president 50 – 46 percent among Pennsylvania likely voters, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.
This compares to a 54 – 42 percent Obama lead in a September 26 survey by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University.
In today’s survey, men back Romney 54 – 43 percent, compared to a 49 – 48 percent split September 26. Women back Obama 57 – 39 percent, little changed from last month. White voters back Romney 53 – 43 percent while black voters back Obama 97 – 1 percent. White Catholic voters go Republican 56 – 43 percent. Voters with college degrees back the president 54 – 43 percent while voters without degrees are divided with 49 percent for Obama and 47 percent for Romney.
Only 7 percent of Pennsylvania likely voters say they might change their mind in the next 21 days.
“Gov. Mitt Romney is coming on strong in the Keystone State, especially among white Catholics,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
“Pennsylvania voters say Vice President Joseph Biden, a native son and a Catholic, won the debate and is more qualified than U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan to be president. But that doesn’t seem to be lifting the top of the ticket.”
Pennsylvania likely voters say 42 – 37 percent that Pennsylvania-born Vice President Joseph Biden beat U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan in last week’s debate. Independent voters say 41 – 35 percent that Biden won.
But more than 60 percent of voters say the debate does not affect their presidential vote.
Biden is more qualified than Ryan to serve as president, voters say 50 – 42 percent.
By a 52 – 45 percent margin, Pennsylvania voters have a favorable opinion of Obama.
Romney gets a divided 46 – 44 percent favorability rating.
MARK HALPERIN: There were two fundamentals that were keeping the President as the heavy favorite, as far as I was concerned, to win re-election, for a long time. One was the Electoral College and the fact that he started with a larger Electoral College base. Governor Romney really needed to win almost all the toss-ups. And the second thing that he had a big advantage on was defining Mitt Romney as an unacceptable choice, that you couldn’t vote for Mitt Romney and that Romney was going to have a ceiling. The first debate had such a big impact on making Romney seem like an acceptable choice and it also, now, has changed the balance in the Electoral College. If Governor Romney is able to win the three Southern states of the nine toss-ups — Florida, Virginia, North Carolina — and Ohio; he’s not a favorite in Ohio but he’s now got in position to win Ohio. You look at that map, all of that red, that gets him to 266 if he can take Ohio. And, I talked to two Democrats yesterday who now think it’s possible that the President’s position in Ohio will erode to such an extent that he can lose it. 266 means all Governor Romney would need to do is win one of those five toss-ups in yellow and that’s a huge change. That map gives Governor Romney the Electoral College advantage that the President has long enjoyed.
WILLIE GEIST: Mark, we should be clear, if you look at that map, you’re not calling Ohio right now.
MARK HALPERIN: No, not at all. But I was struck yesterday at how some Democrats now believe that what had been a clear advantage in Ohio for a long time is now something that is eroded. Governor Romney, if he’s an acceptable choice, not just nationally but in Ohio, I think he’s a strong Ohio candidate in a state that, two years ago, elected a Republican governor, a Republican senator in contested races.
And then place it within the context of a Gallup Poll that shows the number of swing voters is tiny, indeed — so victory could also go to the candidate who can peel off just enough from the other side as well:
Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will enter Tuesday’s debate with similar favorable ratings from U.S. registered voters. In fact, among the electorate, the two presidential candidates’ favorable ratings have been almost identical since May, after Romney clinched the Republican nomination.
Romney’s unfavorable ratings among registered voters are slightly lower than Obama’s, partly because Obama is better known, and more have an opinion — positive or negative — of the president. Romney’s lower unfavorable ratings, and similar favorable ratings to Obama, give him a slightly better “net favorable” rating than Obama (+8 vs. +3). Romney’s net favorable rating among registered voters has been no worse than tied with Obama’s since May.
The latest results are based on an Oct. 10-11 USA Today/Gallup poll. It was conducted after the first presidential debate in Denver on Oct. 3 but before the second in Hempstead, N.Y., on Oct. 16.
The data suggest, at best, minimal change in each candidate’s favorable ratings after the first debate. The lack of change is notable particularly for Obama, whose debate performance was widely panned, suggesting little damage to his image among the electorate, even though the race has tightened a little since then. It is also notable that Romney’s favorable ratings did not improve much among voters even though he was widely considered the winner of that debate.
Previously, Gallup had reported candidate favorable ratings on the basis of all national adults, rather than only those registered to vote. On that basis, Obama’s favorable ratings were generally higher than Romney’s. For example, in a Sept. 24-27 USA Today/Gallup poll, 55% of all Americans had a favorable opinion of Obama and 47% of Romney, compared with favorable ratings of 50% for each among registered voters in the same poll. The differences in favorable ratings between national adults and registered voters indicate that non-registered voters are generally more positive toward Obama and less positive toward Romney.
The current poll did not measure favorable ratings among the national adult population.
The bottom line?
*The race remains excruciatingly close.
*In such a close race, the debate could have an influence — if for not other fact that it could keep existing poll numbers frozen in, let alone helping or hurting a candidate.
*A candidate that wants to change the dynamic has to do something that is attention grabbing for them in a positive way. During the first Presidential debate that was Romney. Clearly, in this debate Obama will try to prevent that. But that won’t be enough. Can he do something to advance his case beyond where it is now?
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.