President Obama runs ahead of Mitt Romney in three important swing states, according to new polls released Wednesday by Quinnipiac University. But the polls all show Obama below the critical 50-percent threshold for an incumbent in each of the three states.
Obama holds a slim lead in Florida, but he leads by larger margins in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Ohio represents a significant change from Quinnipiac's most recent poll, while results in the other two states are nearly identical to surveys conducted earlier this month.
In all three states, Obama is mired in the mid-to-high 40s, while Romney lags behind -- putting the usual maxim about an incumbent below 50 percent in pre-election polls to the test.
Obama's share of the vote closely resembles his approval rating in each state, suggesting that the percentage of voters who approve of his job performance may be his ceiling. But Romney is not entirely an unknown quantity, and voters in each state are more likely to say they have an unfavorable opinion of him than a favorable feeling.
"The horse race numbers reflect the general view of voters that they like the president better," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac poll. "Obama has a net favorable view among Ohio voters and he is viewed evenly by those in Pennsylvania and Florida, while Romney's favorable/unfavorable ratio is negative in all three states."
Obama leads Romney in the Sunshine State, 45 percent to 41 percent. Quinnipiac's previous survey in Florida was released last week; this new poll entered the field the day after the previous poll concluded. These new results are nearly identical to the previous poll.
Obama holds slight leads among women and independents, but he captures just 35 percent of the white vote. Only 32 percent of white voters without college degrees would vote for Obama, compared to 51 percent for Romney.
A majority of Florida voters, 58 percent, support the Obama administration's "policy in which young illegal immigrants who came to the country as children will be able to obtain work permits and will not face deportation." Only a third opposes it. The proposal is more popular among black (88 percent) and Hispanic (74 percent) voters than among whites (49 percent).
Obama has opened up a slightly larger lead among Hispanic voters than in the previous survey -- which was in the field as Obama made the immigration announcement -- but the difference between the two surveys among this group is within the margin of error.
Other poll measures underscore Obama's vulnerability in holding the state's 29 electoral votes. Voters are split virtually evenly on Obama's approval rating (47 percent approve, 49 percent disapprove) and personal favorability (47 percent favorable, 47 percent unfavorable). Voters are also evenly divided on which candidate would do a better job handling the economy.
Obama has opened up his largest lead in Quinnipiac's Ohio polling thus far, leading Romney by 9 percentage points, 47 percent to 38 percent. Six weeks ago, the two candidates ran neck-and-neck in the Buckeye State.
Independents provide Obama his boost, with each candidate at around 85 percent among his own partisans. Independents tilt toward Obama by a 9-point margin.
Quinnipiac's sample is slightly more Democratic-leaning than the previous poll. In the latest poll, 34 percent of voters said they generally consider themselves Democrats, compared to 26 percent who say they are Republicans. In the early May survey, 31 percent of voters were Democrats, and 29 percent were Republicans.
Still, the higher percentage among Democrats only explains part of the net change in the horse-race result. Obama's 9-point lead among independents is a 13-point swing from the previous poll, when Romney led by 4 points among independents.
Obama runs only slightly behind Romney among white voters, trailing by just 4 percentage points, a net improvement of 6 points since early May.
Ohio is Obama's best state on some of the poll's other questions: It is the only one of the three states in which more voters approve of his job than disapprove, though the 48 percent approval rating is not significantly higher than the 46 percent disapproval. Half of voters have a favorable opinion of Obama, compared to 44 percent who have an unfavorable opinion.
Romney's ratings in Ohio have taken a significant hit, the poll shows. In two polls conducted from late April to early May, voters were split evenly on Romney. But now, only 32 percent of Ohio voters have a favorable opinion of him, far less than the 46 percent who have an unfavorable opinion.
Ohio voters have also soured on Romney's economic stewardship. Obama now leads on the question of which candidate would do a better job on the economy by a 5-point margin, a 9-point swing from early May, when Romney led on this question by 4 points.
A slight majority supports Obama's immigration announcement, 52 percent, to 38 percent who oppose. But the issue divides sharply along the lines of race and class. White voters with a college degree support it roughly two-to-one, 60 percent to 31 percent. But more non-college whites, 47 percent, oppose it than the 43 percent who support the decision.
The Keystone State is slightly less kind to Obama than its western neighbor, despite its Democratic history. Obama leads Romney in the state by 6 points, 45 percent to 39 percent. But Pennsylvania independents tilt toward Romney, 43 percent to 37 percent.
The two candidates are virtually tied among male voters, but Obama's 12-point edge among women contributes to his overall edge. Obama runs 5 points behind Romney among white voters, who make up the overwhelming majority of Pennsylvania's electorate, with the entirety of his deficit due to whites without college degrees.
The overall topline result -- a 6-point Obama lead -- is virtually identical to a Quinnipiac poll conducted in the state earlier this month.
Obama's approval and favorability ratings are only at 45 percent in the state, with slightly more voters disapproving and have an unfavorable opinion, respectively. Romney is not popular in the state, either: Only 34 percent of voters have a favorable opinion of him, fewer than the 39 percent who have an unfavorable view.
Voters are split down the middle on which candidate would do a better job handling the economy, with 44 percent choosing Obama and 44 percent preferring Romney.
As in Ohio, a slight majority of Pennsylvania voters favor Obama's immigration decision, with downscale whites more likely to say they oppose it.
The polls were conducted June 19-25; live interviewers call both land-line and cellular telephones. Quinnipiac surveyed 1,200 voters in Florida, 1,237 in Ohio and 1,250 in Pennsylvania. Results for each separate state survey carry margins of error of plus-or-minus 2.8 percent.