President Obama holds significant leads over Mitt Romney in three crucial battleground states, hitting the critical 50 percent threshold in each, according to new Quinnipiac University/CBS News/New York Times polls released early Wednesday that show the president performing virtually equally among the key groups that will determine his prospects for earning a second term.
Obama leads Romney by 6 percentage points in both Florida and Ohio, while in Pennsylvania, traditionally a more Democratic-leaning state, he leads by a robust 11 points.
Moreover, the polls show that relatively few voters say they are undecided or might change their minds. Just 5 percent in each state said they would choose another candidate or were undecided, while only around 10 percent of those who did choose either Obama or Romney said they might change before the election.
The polls are the first conducted by Quinnipiac University among likely voters in the general election. Previous Quinnipiac polls among all registered voters showed Obama leading Romney in these states, but coming up short of the 50 percent mark. Though Obama's performance improved after Quinnipiac made that switch, it is important to note that Republicans say they are more enthusiastic about voting in the election than Democrats in each state, particularly in Florida.
Voters in each state have generally favorable opinions of Obama, though they are split when asked about Obama's job performance. Romney's image ratings in each state tilt slightly negative. Voters are also significantly more likely to say that Obama "cares about the needs and problems of people" like them in each state, compared with Romney.
But Romney remains tied with Obama on the question of which candidate would better handle the economy, which most voters rate as the most important issue in the election.
Obama leads Romney in the Sunshine State, 51 percent to 45 percent. Each candidate holds around 90 percent of members of their own party, while independents are split down the middle, 47 percent to 46 percent. Obama's lead is driven by a 9-point party-identification advantage: 36 percent of respondents said they were Democrats, compared to 27 percent who identified as Republicans.
Democrats enjoyed a 3-point advantage in Florida in 2008, according to exit polls. The two parties were even on the question of party-identification in the 2010 exit poll.
Among white voters, Romney leads Obama, 55 percent to 42 percent. That is virtually identical to the GOP advantage among white voters in 2008, when Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., won 56 percent of the white vote, compared with 42 percent for Obama. Obama also approaches his 2008 performance among white college graduates (47 percent, compared with 44 percent in 2008) and non-college whites (40 percent, versus 41 percent four years ago).
Obama captures 93 percent of black voters and 56 percent of Hispanics, on par with four years ago.
Florida voters are split on Obama's job performance: 48 percent approve, and 48 percent disapprove. They are also divided on their opinions of Romney: 41 percent view him favorably, compared with 42 percent who view him unfavorably.
On the question of which candidate would better handle the economy, 47 percent choose Romney, and 45 percent pick Obama. A majority, 52 percent, rate the economy as the most important issue in this year's election.
As in Florida, Obama leads in Ohio by 6 percentage points, 50 percent to 44 percent. Obama wins 92 percent of Democrats, while Romney retains 90 percent of Republicans. Independents tilt to Obama by an insignificant, 47 percent-44 percent margin. Unlike in Florida, however, the poll's party-identification breakdown matches past trends: Democrats lead by 8 percentage points on this question, equal to 2008, according to exit polls.
As in 2008, Obama performs slightly better among whites in Ohio, compared with other swing states. He wins 44 percent of the white vote in the new poll, while Romney leads with 51 percent among whites. McCain won 52 percent of white Ohio voters in 2008, compared with Obama's 46 percent, according to exit polls.
The Ohio poll also shows a smaller difference between white- and blue-collar white voters: Obama wins 47 percent of white voters with college degrees and 44 percent of whites without a degree. Both approach his 2008 performance among these groups (49 percent and 44 percent, respectively).
Obama's approval rating among the state's likely voters is 48 percent, equal to the percentage who disapprove of his job performance.
Despite a television ad blitz focused on the Buckeye State, nearly as many likely voters there have favorable opinions of Romney (40 percent) as those with unfavorable opinions (43 percent). But a majority, 55 percent, say Romney does not care "about the needs and problems of people" like them; only 38 percent believe he does care. A separate, 55-percent majority reports seeing TV ads attacking Romney.
Obama holds a double-digit lead over Romney here, 53 percent to 42 percent, fueled largely by a dominant, 22-percent advantage among self-identified independents. The gender gap is also a factor in the Keystone State, as Romney leads among men by 3 points, but Obama routs him among female voters by 24 points.
As in the other two states, Obama nearly matches his performance among college (52 percent, versus 55 percent in 2008) and non-college (42 percent in each year) white voters.
Obama also holds a significant likability advantage over Romney, with 53 percent viewing the president favorably, higher than the 39 percent who have a favorable opinion of Romney.
More voters in the state say they have not seen television ads for both candidates, consistent with both campaigns' advertising strategies thus far.
The polls were conducted July 24-30. In Florida, 1,177 likely voters were surveyed, while the Ohio poll surveyed 1,193 likely voters and the Pennsylvania poll surveyed 1,168 likely voters. The margin of error for the Florida and Pennsylvania polls is plus or minus 2.9 percentage points; the margin of error for the Ohio survey is plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.