President Barack Obama
Barack Obama has emerged from the nominating conventions in his best position against Mitt Romney since spring, a 50-44 percent race among registered voters in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll. But Romney recovers to a virtual dead heat among those most likely to vote, keeping the contest between them wide open.
Obama is the greater beneficiary of the back-to-back nominating conventions. For the first time he's numerically ahead of Romney in trust to handle the economy, the key issue of the 2012 contest, albeit by a scant 47-45 percent. Obama's seized a 15-point lead in trust to advance the interests of the middle class. And strong enthusiasm among his supporters is up by 8 points from its pre-convention level; Obama now leads Romney by 10 points in "very" enthusiastic support, reports ABC News .
The 50-44 percent race among registered voters compares with a 46-47 percent Obama-Romney contest immediately before the conventions; while those shifts are within the survey's margin of sampling error, Obama is at his best vs. Romney since an ABC/Post poll in early April. That's the case even though fewer than half, 48 percent, approve of Obama's job performance in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates.
The main change has been a shift among Democrats, coalescing around their party's nominee. Obama's support from Democrats who are registered to vote has advanced by 8 percentage points since before the conventions, to a near-unanimous 91 percent, matching his best; the number defecting to Romney has dropped by 6 points, to a mere 5 percent. Among other groups, Obama's support has reached a new high among men, while Romney is at new lows among moderates, whites and higher-income voters, all in ABC/Post polls since April 2011.
Additionally, there's been a shift in preferences in the eight tossup states identified by the ABC News Political Unit: Registered voters in these states now favour Obama over Romney by 54-40 percent, vs. 42-48 percent in these same states before the party conventions. And in the states with mid-levels of unemployment, it's 51-43 percent, vs. 40-53 percent pre-convention, further suggesting some progress for Obama in his economic arguments.
As noted, though, among likely voters - people who say they're both registered and certain to vote - the race squeezes shut at 49-48 percent, Obama-Romney, essentially unchanged since before the conventions (+2 Romney then, +1 Obama now, well within sampling error.) That means that Romney's supporters express greater intention to vote - a challenge for Obama's ground game, and a suggestion that the race could come down to turnout.
Obama faces another reality: No incumbent with an approval rating below 50 percent in September of an election year has been re-elected in ABC/Post polls dating to the Reagan presidency. However, one came close: Not in September, but in early August 2004, George W. Bush had just 48 percent approval among registered voters. That went to 52 percent the next month, en route to his re-election. (Among other presidents, it seems that only Harry Truman won re-election with less than majority approval as the election approached, but the only pre-election data point available is a Gallup poll from late June 1948, showing 40 percent approval.)
Romney has his own challenges; beyond his lack of traction on the economy, he's broadly seen as having failed to provide specifics of his governing plan - in effect a negative assessment of his convention presentation. Registered voters by 63-31 percent say Romney has not provided enough details on the policies he'd pursue as president. They divide much more evenly, 46-49 percent, on whether Obama has or hasn't given enough details on what he'd do in a second term.
Other results suggest opportunities for Romney. The "build that" theme may have legs; Romney is far more apt than Obama to be seen as understanding what it takes to build a successful small business, and registered voters by 53-35 percent think government programs make it harder, not easier, for small businesses to succeed - a position the opposite of what Obama has expressed. At the same time, Obama and Romney run evenly in trust to support small businesses, suggesting that Romney has yet to capitalize on this issue.
More broadly, registered voters by a 13-point margin, 53-40 percent, say government programs do more to interfere with people's lives than to improve them, a position again more in tune with Romney's image as an advocate of smaller government than with Obama's.