By Jim Malone
In the U.S. presidential race, two new public opinion surveys contain some good news for President Barack Obama as he looks ahead to the November election and his presumptive Republican opponent, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
The new public opinion polls show increased support for President Obama in several key swing or battleground states, states that often tip the electoral vote count in favor of one candidate or another in close presidential elections.
U.S. presidential elections are determined by the state by state electoral vote count, where the winner of the popular vote in a given state is awarded all of that state’s electoral votes, with a few minor exceptions. Candidates tend to focus on the more competitive large population states because they have the most electoral votes at stake.
A new NBC News-Wall Street Journal survey shows the president with a narrow lead nationally over Mitt Romney, 47 to 44 percent. But that point spread is within the survey’s margin of error. The poll also shows the president has moved into a larger lead over Romney in many of the dozen or so battleground states, where both candidates are expected to do the bulk of their campaigning.
A new Quinnipiac University survey of three key states shows Obama gaining a larger lead over his likely Republican challenger in recent weeks, despite continuing signs of a weak economic recovery.
“If the election were held today, President Obama would carry Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania and therefore would almost certainly be reelected,” said Peter Brown of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute polling organization. “No one has been elected president since 1960 without carrying two of those three states. And today, the president is ahead in all of them.”
Brown adds that the Obama campaign is running negative TV ads in several key states critical of Romney’s business career and his economic record when he was governor of Massachusetts.
“The president is spending heavily on television [advertisements] in these key swing states and that is helping,” Brown explained. “Television matters. Television ads really move voters and that may be one of the reasons why the president is doing a little better.”
But the Romney campaign has also raised tens of millions of dollars to run ads critical of the president. Many analysts say the Republicans and their allies could outraise the Democrats in this year’s election, leading both sides to wage a long and negative campaign.
Brown says the economy remains the key issue in the election. But he says the president is trying to draw a strong contrast for voters between himself and Mitt Romney.
“Everybody knows who President Obama is,” Brown noted. “Virtually all Americans have a view of the president, either positively or negatively. Mitt Romney is a different story. Many voters, even voters who say they are either for him or against him, don’t have a firm fix on who he is. And so what is happening is that he and President Obama are in a race to define Mitt Romney to the American voter.”
Brown says his survey shows the coalition that elected President Obama four years ago remains largely intact, including strong support from women, African Americans, young people and Hispanics. Romney, however, has a unified Republican Party behind him and is making inroads with independent voters.
The latest polls also show support for the president’s move to stop the deportation of some younger illegal aliens that could boost Hispanic support for Obama in November.
“Obama simply can’t win unless he at least duplicates his performance with Hispanics from 2008,” said Larry Sabato who directs the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “He’s lost so many white voters and so many people in other categories that he has to depend heavily on African Americans, Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans to win.”
There are warning signs for the president as well in the latest polls. The NBC News-Wall Street Journal survey found the president’s overall approval rating at a new low for the year at 47 percent, while 53 percent disapproved of his handling of the economy.
Quinnipiac University pollster Peter Brown cautions that although the latest surveys might contain some good news for the president, the election is still months away and that Mitt Romney has plenty of time to make his case to voters in what many analysts say will be a close election.