Obama has edge in three battleground states, polls show


PRESIDENT BARACK Obama is struggling to persuade voters that he deserves to win re-election based on his handling of the economy, but his empathy and personal appeal give him an edge over Mitt Romney in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, according to Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News polls.

The contours of a deeply competitive presidential race, with three months remaining until the election, are highlighted in the new surveys of likely voters in the three battleground states. Romney drew fairly even with Obama when voters were asked about managing the nation’s financial situation, but his candidacy remains tested by concerns over his business background and his reluctance to release more of his tax returns.

The polls in the three states, all of which Obama carried in 2008, offer a window into challenges and opportunities for both candidates as August begins and they prepare for their nominating conventions and the general election fight. Most paths to victory that the campaigns are pursuing include winning at least two of the states.

While independent voters break strongly for Obama in Pennsylvania, a state that Romney has been trying to make more competitive, they are closely split in Florida and Ohio. Of the coalition that Obama built to win the White House, independent voters remain a hurdle, with a little more than half in Florida and Ohio saying they disapprove of his job performance.

But a torrent of television advertising in the states, particularly in Ohio and Florida, appears to be resonating in Obama’s quest to define his Republican rival. The polls found that more voters say Romney’s experience was too focused on making profits at Bain Capital, the private equity firm he led, rather than the kind of experience that would help create jobs.

A snapshot of the race, taken during a burst of summer campaigning, found Obama holds an advantage of 6 percentage points over Romney in Florida and Ohio. The president is stronger in Pennsylvania, leading by 11 percentage points. The margin of sampling of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points in each state.

The New York Times, in collaboration with Quinnipiac and CBS News, is tracking the presidential contest in six states through polls over the next three months. In addition to Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania, which have a combined 67 electoral votes, surveys will be taken in Colorado, Wisconsin and Virginia, which have 32 electoral votes.

Four years ago, Obama won all six states. Romney is campaigning in each state, with his strategists seeing the efforts in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin as the most ambitious. Those two states, which have voted for the Democratic presidential candidate over the last two decades, are considered firewalls, and an erosion of support would signal trouble for the president.

The polls found that Obama faces substantial hurdles of his own, most of them rooted in the electorate’s deeply pessimistic outlook on the economy. By double-digit margins, voters in each state say his policies would hurt, rather than help, their personal financial situation if he won re-election, a worrisome sign considering the economy is ranked as voters’ chief concern.

Still, more than half of voters in each state also say the administration’s actions are either slowly improving the economy or will, if given more time.

“Romney does have business experience, but I wonder if his business experience would benefit the country or might harm it,” said Peg Pagano (72), a retiree in Holland, Pennsylvania, in a follow-up interview. “He was in business in order to make a profit. There’s nothing wrong with that, but how would that help the country? I feel Obama needs to be given another four years.”

In all three states, most women say they prefer Obama. About half of female voters in Florida back him, while his support is even stronger in Ohio and Pennsylvania, where nearly six in 10 women say they favour him. In Ohio, men prefer Romney, while they are more closely split in Florida and Pennsylvania.

The economy is the top concern in all three states. But voters in Ohio express more optimism about their own backyard, with 33 per cent saying their economy is improving, compared with 23 per cent in Florida. Ohio’s unemployment rate, 7.2 per cent, is the lowest of the three states and below the national rate.

A sliver of voters, 4 per cent in each state, say they are undecided between Obama and Romney. Only about one in 10 who have picked a candidate say they could change their minds, fewer than some polls showed at this point in previous races.

Obama has a clear advantage on personal measures, and far more voters say he cares about the needs and problems of people like them.

Romney is seen as being able to do a comparable job on the economy. More voters in Florida say his economic policies would be better for their own financial situations. Among independent voters in the state, the poll found Romney outpacing Obama by 14 percentage points when asked who would perform better on the economy.

“We’ve seen Romney’s track record with the Olympics and with his business and I think that’s what really swayed me,” said Chris Rench (47), a former equipment operator from Piqua, Ohio. “And I haven’t seen anything in his past that has been questionable. There is nothing to make me doubt his ability to do the things he says he wants to do.” The president drew broad support from voters in each state for a proposal to raise income taxes on people whose household income is more than $250,000. The plan received the backing of 58 per cent of likely voters in Florida, 60 per cent in Ohio and 62 per cent in Pennsylvania.

Romney has endured criticism for declining to release more than two years of his tax returns, and at least half the voters, including about half the independent voters, in each state say presidential candidates should release several years of returns.

The state polls were conducted by telephone from July 24th through July 30th among 1,177 likely voters in Florida, 1,193 likely voters in Ohio and 1,168 likely voters in Pennsylvania. The findings cannot be compared with previous surveys because the polls are a measure of people who are likely to vote, rather than those who are simply registered. While the intensity of the race is high, it remains an open question how much the summer campaigning will influence the outcome.

Tens of millions of dollars have been invested on television advertising in the states, but most voters say they are not swayed by the commercials.

“I think Romney has a little more economic experience because of his business background than Obama does, but I’m voting for Obama because his policies are more in line with my thinking overall,” said William Basler (69), an independent voter from Florida. – ( New York Times service)