President Obama leads former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in three key swing states, according to new Quinnipiac University polls released Wednesday, but Obama remains vulnerable in all three battlegrounds.
In Quinnipiac's last collective look at the presidential race in the three states, in late November and early December, Obama trailed Romney in Florida and Ohio and he led by a statistically insignificant margin in Pennsylvania. Quinnipiac has polled each state since then, finding better numbers for the president. But while Obama has jumped ahead, he is under the critical 50-percent threshold in each state, and his lead in Pennsylvania remains inside the margin of error. Obama leads former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania by larger, significant margins in each state.
The three states will combine for 67 electoral votes in the fall, one fewer than in 2008 as a result of reapportionment. Florida gained two congressional seats, Ohio lost two and Pennsylvania lost one.
Obama leads Romney in the Sunshine State, 49 percent to 42 percent. His lead over Romney among independents is 10 percentage points, 49 percent to 39 percent. Obama's seven-point advantage represents a significant turnaround: In late January, the two candidates were dead even at 45 percent each, and Romney held a small lead through most of last fall.
But Obama is running slightly behind his 2008 performance in Florida, where he defeated Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., by 3 percentage points. Obama earns only 38 percent of the white vote; he had the support of 42 percent of whites in 2008, according to exit polls. His share of the Hispanic vote in the poll, 54 percent, is down 3 percentage points from four years ago.
Obama continues to outperform his 2008 candidacy among more educated voters. He leads Romney in the poll among voters who have college degrees, 48 percent to 43 percent; he lost this group by a point in 2008. But that is largely on the strength of minority voters. Among college-educated whites, Obama trails by 13 percentage points, having lost that subgroup by 12 points four years ago.
Forty-seven percent of Florida voters approve of the job Obama is doing as president, while 49 percent disapprove. But that, too, is an improvement: His approval rating at the start of last fall in the state was a paltry 39 percent. Half of voters now say that Obama deserves to be reelected, equaling his previous high, set last May, shortly after the death of Osama bin Laden.
Florida voters have a more favorable impression of Romney than in the other two states: Forty-one percent view him favorably, while 36 percent have an unfavorable opinion of him. Romney won a blowout victory in the Jan. 31 Florida Republican primary.
Obama's lead over Romney in the Buckeye State is slightly smaller, 47 percent to 41 percent. He leads Romney by just 4 percentage points among independents. Obama had run neck-and-neck with Romney in Quinnipiac polling last fall.
Ohio offers a significant gender gap: Romney leads Obama among men, 46 percent to 43 percent. But Obama leads among women, 50 percent to 36 percent.
As in Florida, Obama is not as strong among key groups as he was four years ago. He trails Romney among white voters, 45 percent to 41 percent. Obama captured 46 percent of the white vote in 2008. His share of the vote among college whites is down 2 percentage points, but he has lost 5 points among non-college whites.
Obama's approval rating in Ohio is identical to his Florida job rating: 47 percent approve, while 49 percent disapprove. Voters are split evenly on whether he deserves to be reelected, with 48 percent of each side of that question.
Meanwhile, Romney is less popular in Ohio, where he barely eked out a primary victory earlier this month: Thirty-six percent have a favorable opinion of him, while 43 percent view him unfavorably.
Santorum served two terms in the Senate representing the Keystone State, but, according to the poll, Romney is the stronger general election candidate. Romney trails Obama by just 3 percentage points, 45 percent to 42 percent, while Santorum lags by 48 percent to 41 percent. That is a reversal from earlier this month, when Quinnipiac found Santorum to be the stronger challenger, trailing Obama by just 1 point, while Romney was 6 points behind.
The gender gap seen in Ohio is less pronounced in Pennsylvania. Romney leads by 1 point among men but trails by 6 among women. Obama relied on the female vote to win comfortably in Pennsylvania four years ago, defeating McCain by a whopping 18 percentage points among women, according to exit polls.
Obama has seen significant erosion among whites, the poll shows. Just 40 percent would vote for him against Romney; Obama captured 48 percent of the white vote in 2008. Obama is also struggling with less-educated voters. He leads Romney by 11 points among voters with a college degree, down from a 13-point advantage over McCain four years ago. But among those without a college degree, Romney edges Obama, 43 percent to 42 percent. That represents a 12-point drop in Obama's support among non-graduates, a group he won by 9 points in 2008.
Obama's approval rating in Pennsylvania also lags behind the other two states. Just 45 percent of voters approve of Obama, while half disapprove. Earlier this month, voters were more evenly split: Forty-seven percent approved, while 49 percent disapproved. Half of voters also say they feel that Obama does not deserve to be reelected, virtually unchanged since last fall.
Neither Romney nor Santorum is particularly popular in Pennsylvania. Both earn favorable ratings from 37 percent of voters, but Santorum engenders more negative feelings: Forty-five percent view him unfavorably, while just 38 percent have an unfavorable opinion of Romney. Among Republicans, who will vote in the state's April 24 primary, the two have similar personal ratings. A separate Quinnipiac University poll of Pennsylvania Republicans conducted earlier this month showed Santorum with a significant lead over Romney.
Quinnipiac University conducted the three polls March 20-26. Though the sample sizes for each state were slightly different (1,228 Florida voters, 1,246 Ohio voters, 1,232 Pennsylvania voters), each poll carries the same margin of error: plus-or-minus 2.8 percentage points.