President Obama now holds only a narrow lead over Mitt Romney in Pennsylvania, a state thought only a month ago to be safely in the incumbent’s corner, according to a new poll from Quinnipiac University released on Tuesday.
The survey of likely voters conducted from Oct. 12-14, reports the president is ahead of the GOP presidential nominee in the Keystone State by just 4 percentage points, 50 percent to 46 percent. Romney has gained 8 points on Obama since a late-September Quinnipiac poll, when the president led, 54 percent to 42 percent.
The latest survey is representative of national polls that show the race shifting in Romney’s favor since the first presidential debate. As in those polls, his gains correlate with increased favorability ratings. In September, just 41 percent of likely voters saw Romney favorably, while 50 percent saw him unfavorably. Now, a plurality of likely voters in the state see the former governor positively, 46 percent to 44 percent.
Obama’s number remain mostly unchanged: 52 percent see him favorably, while 45 percent don’t. A month ago, 54 percent saw him favorably and 43 percent who didn’t.
The survey also squares with another recent Pennsylvania survey that reported Romney gains. A Muhlenberg College/Morning Call poll of likely voters, conducted from Oct. 10 through Oct. 14 with a margin of error of 5 percentage points, found Obama leading Romney by only 4 points, 49 percent to 45 percent. That was down from an 7-point advantage for the president from the same survey taken in late September.
But another poll conducted on the Philadelphia Inquirer’s behalf by the Democratic firm Global Strategy Group and Republican group National Research, reported Obama held a far more comfortable edge among likely voters. He led by 8 points there, 50 percent to 42 percent, according to the Inquirer survey, taken from Oct. 4-8.
The Quinnipiac poll reported a gargantuan gender gap between support of the two candidates. Romney led among men in the state, 54 percent to 43 percent, while Obama led among women, 57 percent to 39 percent. That’s a net 29-point difference.
Pennsylvania has traditionally been among the country’s most fiercely contested presidential battlegrounds, even as Democrats have won every quadrennial battle there since George H.W. Bush’s victory in 1988. But it has largely been ignored by both campaigns this cycle, who have shifted their focus to new swing states such as Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina, and Virginia. TV-ad spending by either campaign, tracked and compiled by The Hotline, shows Obama’s campaign hasn’t spent a dollar over the air there since July; Romney’s campaign has yet to make a single ad buy in Pennsylvania in the general election.
However, Ann Romney told Philadelphia radio station WPHT on Monday: "You know, the debate was huge and we’ve seen our numbers move all across the country, but in particular, Pennsylvania is in play, so we’re here and we’re fighting."
It’s not surprising that if the general-election race is close, Pennsylvania would be competitive. Obama won the state by 10 points four years ago, but George W. Bush lost it narrowly by just over 2 points in 2004.
Whether the Romney campaign will make a last-ditch effort to win the state remains unclear. Obama’s lead has shrunk, but it remains larger in the Keystone State than in battlegrounds such as Iowa, Ohio, and Virginia. And advertising in Pennsylvania is both expensive and inefficient, particularly in the sprawling Philadelphia media market. An investment capable of moving numbers would likely cost millions of dollars, and advertising in Philadelphia means paying for voters in southern New Jersey and Delaware to see the ads (each part of the city’s media market), both of which are safe Democratic seats.
The Romney campaign has already calculated it can reach 270 electoral votes by winning some combination of Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Making a late play for Pennsylvania would siphon money from efforts in each of them — although it’s possible that, for strategic reasons, Romney’s campaign decides to make Obama’s campaign put up ads of its own there.
Quinnipiac University's latest poll surveyed 1,519 likely voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points. The poll used live interviewers, who called land lines and cell phones.