Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has surged following his strong debate performance last week, and he now holds a slight lead over President Obama among likely voters, according to a new poll released Monday by the Pew Research Center.
Romney is more highly regarded on most personal traits and issues than he was prior to the debate, and his supporters are now more enthusiastic and engaged in the campaign than they were last month. The poll also shows significant increases in the number of voters who identify as Republicans and the number of Republicans who report that they are likely to vote.
Romney leads Obama among likely voters, 49 percent to 45 percent, with 6 percent undecided or choosing another candidate. That is a significant turnaround from the previous poll, conducted in mid-September, when Obama led, 51 percent to 43 percent.
Among the broader universe of registered voters surveyed from Oct. 4-7, the two candidates are tied at 46 percent apiece, with 8 percent undecided. That is similar to interviews conducted by Gallup Oct. 4-6, which also found Obama and Romney tied among registered voters.
The catalyst for Romney's bounce appears to be his performance at last week's debate. Asked who did the better job, 66 percent of voters say Romney did, compared to just 20 percent for Obama.
For the first time in Pew's polling, a majority of Romney supporters say they "strongly support" him. Obama had held a significant advantage on this measure all year. Romney's supporters are more engaged in the campaign than Obama's, the poll also shows. Fully 82 percent of Romney backers say they have given "a lot of thought" to the election , compared to just two-thirds of Obama voters. The two candidates were roughly even on this measure last month.
As a result, more Republicans are making it through the likely-voter screen, giving the GOP a 5-point advantage on party identification, a significant change from last month, when Democrats held a 10-point advantage. Republicans now make up 36 percent of likely voters, up from 29 percent last month. Democratic identification among likely voters declined from 39 percent last month, to 31 percent now.
Meanwhile, the poll also shows significant jumps for Romney on important personal attributes following the debate. Romney now matches Obama in favorability among registered voters. Half view Romney favorably, while 46 percent have an unfavorable opinion of him. Obama's numbers are similar: 49 percent favorable, and 48 percent unfavorable.
Both Obama and Romney are now equally seen as a "strong leader" by registered voters, compared to a 13-point Obama advantage on this measure last month. Romney has also closed the gap on the question of which candidate is "honest and truthful," trimming his deficit from 14 points in September to 5 points in the new survey.
Romney has seen similar increases on the issues. He now holds a significant advantage on improving the jobs outlook, 49 percent to 41 percent, despite the fact that most of the poll was conducted after the release of September's unemployment numbers on Friday. Last month, Obama held a 1-point advantage on this measure. Romney now leads by 4 points on the issue of taxes, which was a 6-point advantage for Obama last month. On the issues of Medicare, health care and foreign policy, which showed double-digit margins for Obama last month are now slim, single-digit edges.
On the ballot test, Romney's most significant improvements have come among women, white voters and younger voters. While Obama held an 18-point lead among likely female voters last month, the race is now tied, with each candidate capturing 47 percent of the female vote. Romney leads among men, 51 percent to 43 percent, a slight increase from his 2-point edge among male voters last month.
Romney's lead among whites has more than doubled. He now leads, 58 percent to 37 percent; last month, he was winning whites, 51 percent to 44 percent. In particular, he has improved his standing significantly among white women, who now favor him, 57 percent to 38 percent. Last month, Obama was actually winning white women by an insignificant, 3-point margin.
Romney also claims a 3-point lead among voters aged 18 to 49 years, 49 percent to 46 percent. Last month, these voters swung to Obama, 56 percent to 39 percent. Romney also leads among those 50 and older by the same, 3-point margin; Obama led among this bloc by 3 points last month.
The poll surveyed 1,201 registered voters, for a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.3 percentage points. There were also 1,112 likely voters; these results carry a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.4 percentage points.