A new Washington Post/ABC News poll has two key findings: (1) This remains an incredibly tight race with President Barack Obama (barely) ahead, and, (2) Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney has finally won the love of GOPers as they can almost taste an Oval Office win and all the primary rhetoric about having a nominee who completely articulated conservative policies has fallen by the wayside:
[Editor’s Note: Be sure to read Update which is Nate Silver’s view of what this means below.]
On the eve of their second debate, President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney remain locked in a virtual dead heat nationally, with Republicans showing increased enthusiasm for their nominee after his big win in the first debate, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Likely voters in the new poll split 49 percent for Obama to 46 percent for Romney, basically unmoved from the poll two weeks ago, just before the two candidates met in Denver for their first debate. On topic after topic, the survey portrays an electorate that remains deeply divided along partisan lines and locked in its views.
This means the number of swing voters is smaller thane ever. And those who’ve decided have made it clear they are decided. P-e-r-i-o-d:
Nearly two-thirds say they do not need any more information before Election Day, and barely one in eight is undecided or says there is a chance he could change his vote. Even as voters overwhelmingly perceive that Romney won the first debate, the vast majority say their opinion of the president did not shift as a result.
But more people changed their views of Romney, largely in a positive direction. Overall, more than twice as many say their opinions of the former Massachusetts governor improved than say they worsened as a result of the debate. The strongest reaction is among Romney backers, 70 percent of whom say Denver made them think more highly of the GOP nominee.
The improvement in views of Romney carries directly into the underpinnings of his support: Fewer of his supporters now express anxiety about a Romney administration, and the number of his backers saying they support him “very enthusiastically” jumped by double digits. Among the likely voters supporting Romney, 62 percent now do so intensely, exactly double the number who were eagerly lined up behind Republican nominee John McCain at this stage in the campaign four years ago.
Meanwhile, enthusiasm for the president has also ticked higher, but it remains below where it was four years ago. Of course, at this time in October 2008, Obama held a 10-percentage-point lead over the Republican senator from Arizona. In the new poll, a three-point edge does not represent a statistically significant advantage.
Beyond enthusiasm, Obama lags behind 2008 in assembling a winning coalition because groups of voters highly likely to back his candidacy — including Democrats, non-whites and younger voters — are far less interested in the campaign this time around.
But the president is buoyed in the final stretch by improving attitudes about the direction of the country, although his fellow Democrats are the ones becoming more sanguine.
The bottom line: swing voters and get out the vote efforts will be crucial in this election — to both sides.
UPDATE: Two updates since this was posted. Some analysts have noted that Obama still is holding in the swing states, but they seem to be referring to one poll. In fact, in some swing state he doesn’t seem to have stability.
But Nate Silver is one of the best poll analysts around and here’s part of his analysis of this poll:
For the last week or so, we have been hoping to decode a confusing polling landscape. President Obama still appeared to hold a narrow Electoral College lead on the basis of state-by-state surveys, while national polls were suggestive of a tie or perhaps the slightest edge for Mitt Romney.
If the current polls hold, predicting the election outcome will boil down to making a series of educated guesses about the relationship between state and national polls, and between the Electoral College and the popular vote.
There have been plenty of elections before when the outcome was highly uncertain down the stretch run or on Election Day itself. But I am not sure that there has been one where different types of polls pointed in opposite directions. Anyone in my business who is not a bit terrified by this set of facts is either lying to himself — or he doesn’t know what he’s doing.
There are three ways out of the stalemate. First, the state polls could move toward Mr. Romney. Second, the national polls could move toward Mr. Obama. Or third, we could receive more emphatic evidence that the difference between state polls and national polls in fact reflects a potential difference between the popular vote and the Electoral College. (This latter case, importantly, would require evidence that Mr. Romney was running well in noncompetitive states along with evidence that Mr. Obama was performing well in swing states.)
After some analysis he concludes:
The national tracking polls will also be important in confirming or denying the result from The Washington Post’s poll. It is no longer that difficult to find national polls that put Mr. Obama ahead. As of Sunday, he was up by 1 percentage point in the online tracking poll published by Ipsos, and by several points in another online survey, from the RAND Corporation, which has never had him behind but has shown him expanding his advantage in recent days. Mr. Obama also led, but by less than a full percentage point, in a poll for Investors’ Business Daily.
Mr. Romney, however, still held leads in two other tracking polls. The Sunday edition of the Rasmussen Reports tracking poll put him up 2 percentage points, a 1-point gain from Saturday, while he maintained a 2-point lead in the Gallup national tracking poll of likely voters.
You should be able to see from this why The Washington Post’s poll is potentially important. With it, the case is clearer that Mr. Obama has recovered from his post-debate lows, although he has almost assuredly not made up all the ground he lost.
Of course, the candidates will also be able to take matters into their own hands in Tuesday’s debate in New York.
If Mr. Obama gains a net of 2 percentage points after the debate, then he should move ahead in the majority of national polls, and his swing state polls should show a clear advantage for him.
If Mr. Romney does instead, then not only would most national polls give him a lead, but so should some in states like Ohio and Iowa where he has struggled to break through.
In the meantime, some partisans will cherry pick the polls that show their candidate ahead, and talk about how bad the methodology is on the poll that shows their candidate lagging.
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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.