By Kim Geiger, Tribune Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — With six months until Election Day, the race between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney has tightened into a statistical dead heat.
Two new polls find that while the candidates are tied for overall support, Obama remains the more well-liked candidate and Romney is considered the more apt at handling the economy.
Romney edged Obama, 48 percent to 47 percent, in the Politico-George Washington University Battleground Poll, a nationwide survey of 1,000 voters conducted last week by the Republican firm the Tarrance Group and the Democratic firm Lake Research Partners. Obama bested Romney, 47 percent to 45 percent, in a Gallup Swing States Poll, which surveyed 951 registered voters in 12 swing states during the same time period.
In each case, the results were within the margin of error, meaning the candidates are statistically tied. Politico’s February poll had Obama leading Romney by 9 percentage points. The Swing State survey had Obama with a 9-percentage-point lead in late March.
Meanwhile, Gallup’s five-day average, which showed Obama with a slight 46 percent to 45 percent lead last week, has flipped in favor of Romney.
Among all respondents in the new Politico poll, 43 percent said they will vote to re-elect Obama in November, 42 percent said they will vote to replace him, and 11 percent said they will consider voting for someone other than Obama.
The poll found Romney with a significant 48 percent to 38 percent advantage among independents, and a 6-percentage-point lead among voters who say they are “extremely likely” to vote in November.
Yet while 70 percent said they approve of Obama as a person — 56 percent said the same of Romney — just 48 percent said they approve of the job he’s doing as president. Twenty-four percent said they like Obama personally but disapprove of the job he’s doing, and 68 percent of them said they would vote to replace him.
In an analysis accompanying the poll results, Republican pollsters Ed Goeas and Brian Nienaber touted the results as evidence that Romney is “a credible candidate who is fully capable of defeating” Obama.
“This should have been a time when President Obama was at his strongest,” Goeas and Nienaber wrote.
Citing the 19 percent of respondents who said they felt Obama has had no impact on the economy, Goeas and Nienaber said those voters will be “the real jump ball at the end of the campaign.”
“If that group of voters break towards either the belief that Obama has made the economy better, or comes to the conclusion that he has made things worse, that’s when you will see the campaign break open,” Goeas and Nienaber wrote.
Still, at this early point in the campaign, voters appeared to prefer Obama over Romney on a host of other issues aside from the economy.
Obama holds a whopping 23-percentage-point lead over Romney (58 percent to 35 percent) on the question of who would better stand up for the middle class. He also leads Romney on “sharing your values” and on who would better handle foreign policy, taxes, health care, jobs, and Social Security and Medicare. The only category in which Romney performed better than Obama was when voters were asked who would better handle the economy. Romney won 48 percent to Obama’s 45 percent.
The Gallup Swing States Poll had better news for Obama and the Democrats. For the first time since last fall, Democrats were more likely than Republicans to say they were extremely or very enthusiastic about voting. In the enthusiasm gap, Republicans had held a 14-percentage-point advantage last year. They’re at an 11-percentage-point deficit now.
“That’s what we saw in 2008, we’re seeing it again in 2012,” Obama campaign manager Jim Messina told reporters on a conference call Monday morning. “The more people get an up close view of Governor Romney, the less enthusiastic they get.”
Moderate Republicans, in particular, appear less enthusiastic since Romney became the presumed nominee. Just 7 percent of moderate and liberal Republicans said they were extremely enthusiastic about voting, compared to 24 percent in January.
“It turns out that if you spend a year running negative ads grinding down your opponent instead of making a case for yourself … that you diminish enthusiasm,” Obama campaign communications director David Axelrod said.
The Gallup poll also found Obama more likeable than Romney, by a 27-percentage-point margin.
But 60 percent said Romney would do a good or very good job handling the economy, compared to 52 percent for Obama. When asked to choose between the two, 47 percent said Romney would do a better job, compared to 44 percent for Obama.
The much-discussed gender gap in which women favor Obama and men favor Romney was apparent to different degrees in the two polls.
The Politico poll found the gender gap narrowing. Obama had a 7-percentage-point lead among women and Romney had a 7-percentage-point lead among men.
The Gallup poll found the gender gap widening. Obama had a 12-percentage-point lead among women and Romney had an 8-percentage-point lead among men, for a total gender gap of 20 percentage points, up from 17 percentage points in March.
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