President Obama now holds his largest leads to date in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, according to three new CBS News/New York Times/Quinnipiac University polls released early Wednesday. The polls all show Obama easily clearing the critical 50-percent threshold in each state, largely as a result of his commanding advantage among female voters.
Obama leads Republican nominee Mitt Romney by 9 points in Florida, 10 points in Ohio and 12 points in Pennsylvania. The three states together combine to award 67 electoral votes, and no candidate has won the presidency without claiming at least two of them since 1960.
Florida and Ohio in particular are considered must-wins for the Romney campaign. Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., kicked off a two-day bus tour of Ohio on Tuesday, where they told supporters they would win the state in November.
But the new polls suggest that if the election were held today, they would lose these three states, and likely the Electoral College. In fact, slight majorities of likely voters in all three states say they think Obama would do a better job handling the economy than Romney, the polls show. Compared to Quinnipiac polls conducted prior to the two parties' conventions, Obama has improved significantly on this measure in both Florida and Ohio.
The polls also show significant advantages for Democrats in the composition of the electorate. In each state, Democrats outnumber Republicans by margins of at least 9 percentage points -- though only in Pennsylvania is the change from the previous Quinnipiac survey statistically significant. Regardless, the polls seem likely to further ignite the argument over whether public and media surveys contain more respondents who identify as Democrats than will vote on Election Day.
Obama leads Romney, 53 percent to 44 percent, according to the poll. Four percent of likely voters prefer another candidate or are undecided. That is a significant increase from the previous poll, conducted prior to the parties' conventions in August, when Obama led by a slimmer margin, 49 percent to 46 percent.
The Quinnipiac poll shows Obama with a larger lead than other recent, public surveys. A Washington Post poll released Monday showed Obama with a 4-point lead, while a Mason-Dixon poll conducted for a number of in-state media outlets released on Sunday showed him leading by just 1 point.
Romney holds a slight edge among male voters, 50 percent to 47 percent. But Obama leads by 19 points among women, 58 percent to 39 percent.
White voters favor Romney, 52 percent to 46 percent, a significant increase for Obama from the previous poll, when he trailed by a 19-point margin among this bloc, 57 percent to 38 percent. Obama wins nearly 90 percent of black voters, while Hispanics also tilt to Obama, 55 percent to 41 percent.
Among white voters with a college degree, the two candidates now run even: 50 percent for Romney, and 48 percent for Obama. A month ago, Romney led by 14 points among this group. Obama has also narrowed the gap among white voters without a degree; Romney now leads, 53 percent to 45 percent, compared to a 20-point lead last month.
The poll also shows significant changes in how likely voters view each candidate. Obama is now viewed favorably by 54 percent of voters, and unfavorably by 42 percent. Last month, 50 percent had a favorable opinion of him, and 45 percent an unfavorable one.
Romney's image has taken a hit in the state. Just 41 percent of likely voters now have a favorable opinion of him, compared to 48 percent who view him unfavorably. A month ago, his image ratings tilted positive: 45 percent favorable and 42 percent unfavorable.
Asked which candidate would do a better job on the economy, Obama enjoys a slight edge, 51 percent to 46 percent. Obama also has the advantage on health care (54 percent to 41 percent), national security (52 percent to 44 percent), Medicare (55 percent to 40 percent), taxes (52 percent to 43 percent) and foreign policy (52 percent to 44 percent). Voters are split on which candidate would do a better job on the budget deficit, 48 percent to 46 percent.
Thirty-six percent of likely voters say they consider themselves Democrats, according to the poll, compared to just 27 percent who are Republicans. That is not statistically different from the 6-point advantage Democrats enjoyed in Quinnipiac's pre-convention poll, but it is larger that the 3-point Democratic edge measured in 2008 by exit pollsters.
One of the reasons why more Democrats are making it through Quinnipiac's likely-voter screen is because the enthusiasm gap between the parties has closed in the Sunshine State, according to the poll. Forty-eight percent of Democrats now say they are more enthusiastic than usual about voting this year, compared to 52 percent of Republicans who have more enthusiasm. Before the conventions, only 36 percent of Democrats said they were more enthusiastic, while 53 percent of Republicans said they were.
Obama enjoys a commanding lead in Ohio, 53 percent to 43 percent, with 4 percent undecided or choosing another candidate. That is an increase from his 6-point lead in the previous poll, conducted just before the conventions.
Obama's lead in the new poll is only slightly larger than in other publicly available surveys. A Washington Post poll released Monday showed the president with an 8-point advantage in the Buckeye State. Romney aides told reporters on the campaign plane Tuesday that its surveys showed a much closer race.
Romney actually leads Obama by 8 points among male voters, 52 percent to 44 percent, but Obama racks up an overwhelming, 25-point lead among female voters, 60 percent to 35 percent.
Romney continues to suffer from a likability gap in the state. Prior to the conventions, just 39 percent of voters had a favorable opinion of him. That percentage ticked up to 41 percent in the new poll, but the percentage who view him unfavorably also increased, from 45 percent last month to 49 percent now.
Meanwhile, 54 percent of likely voters have a favorable opinion of Obama, and half approve of the way he is handling his job as president. Voters prefer Obama when it comes to handling the economy, 51 percent to 45 percent, a jump from the pre-convention poll, when the two were tied on this issue.
Democrats enjoy a 9-point edge over Republicans when it comes to party identification, roughly equal to the previous poll, which showed Democrats leading on this measure by 8 points. This is also in line with the Post poll, in which Democrats were ahead by 7 points.
The sponsors skipped Pennsylvania in the pre-convention round of polling (subbing in Wisconsin), but the latest poll shows the race is virtually unchanged since the last time Quinnipiac surveyed the state, in late July. Obama now leads Romney 54 percent to 42 percent -- equal to his lead at the end of July, 53 percent to 42 percent.
The Quinnipiac poll is in line with a Muhlenberg College poll conducted for the Morning Call of Allentown, Pa., and a bipartisan poll conducted for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Polls conducted by the Harrisburg-based Republican pollster Susquehanna Polling & Research for the state Republican Party and the conservative Pittsburgh Tribune-Review have shown a closer race.
The two candidates run even among men -- 49 percent for Romney, 48 percent for Obama -- but female voters favor Obama by a wide margin, 58 percent to 37 percent. That includes an 11-point edge among white women, 53 percent to 42 percent.
Republicans do have an enthusiasm advantage in the Keystone State, however. Forty-five percent of voters identifying as Republicans say they are more enthusiastic about voting than usual, compared to only 28 percent of Democrats who say they are more enthusiastic.
Still, 39 percent of likely voters describe themselves as Democrats, roughly equal to the 38 percent who did in late July. The percentage of respondents identifying as Republicans dropped, however, from 32 percent to July to 28 percent now.
The polls were conducted Sept. 18-24. Quinnipiac surveyed 1,196 likely voters in Florida, 1,162 in Ohio and 1,180 in Pennsylvania. The Florida poll carries a margin of error of plus-or-minus 2.8 percentage points, while the Ohio and Pennsylvania polls have margins of error of plus-or-minus 2.9 percentage points.