Pew poll: Romney erases eight-point deficit, now leads by four among likely voters

From a 51/43 lead for O last month to a 49/45 lead for Mitt now. Remember when the media said the debates won’t matter?

Most exciting poll of the last year? Or most exciting poll of the last four years?

Romney now ties Obama in being regarded as a strong leader and runs virtually even with the president in willingness to work with leaders of the other party. And by a 47% to 40% margin, voters pick Romney as the candidate who has new ideas

Romney has made progress on the issues. He and Obama now run about even on dealing with health care, Medicare, foreign policy and taxes. Obama led on most of these issues by significant margins in September. Romney also holds a significant 49% to 41% advantage on improving the job situation, despite the fact that most of the interviewing was conducted after the October jobs report, which showed the unemployment rate falling below 8%…

By a 37% to 24% margin, more swing voters say Romney would improve the job situation. Swing voters favor Romney on the deficit by a two-to-one (41% vs. 20%) margin.

We’ve come a long, long way when the avatar of Hopenchange is a distant second on the question of which candidate represents “new ideas.” The polling on jobs is significant too, not only on its own terms but because some of this data was compiled over the weekend, after the news about Friday’s “good” unemployment numbers broke. In fact, among swing voters, 54 percent now say they agree with the statement “Obama doesn’t know how to turn the economy around” versus just 39 percent who disagree. If O can’t put a dent in that this month, he’s in trouble, especially since those numbers partly reflect a “good” jobs report.

Some of Mitt’s improvement here is mind-boggling. Note the amazing shift in women and voters aged 18-49, in particular:

Romney’s favorable rating is now at 50 percent, up five points since last month and one point higher than the guy who’s banking on his alleged likability gap to push him over the edge in a close race. In fact, Mitt rates higher than O even though swing voters are far more likely to say that Obama “connects well with ordinary Americans.” Evidently, Romney cut so impressive a figure at the debate that voters like him slightly more than Obama notwithstanding the fabled “who’d you rather have a beer with?” test.

The one caveat here is the sample. Among registered voters, it’s 34.7R/34D/31.3I; among likelies, it’s probably a few points more Republican than that. Romney’s pollster and Scott Rasmussen have each said they’re expecting a sample of D+3 or so on election day, so this is a rare poll that’s actually a bit redder than it should be — although even that’s a testament to Romney’s debate performance. Party ID tends to shift a bit as each side builds momentum; that’s why the samples after the Democratic convention were a little bluer than usual. What’s happening here, I think, is that some chunk of the audience that watched the debate was sufficiently impressed by Mitt that they’re now identifying as Republican this week. If Ryan does well on Thursday and Romney follows through in his last two debates, maybe that identification will solidify and we’ll get a redder turnout on November 6 than even Team Mitt is expecting. At the very least, perennial Republicans are so energized by Romney’s ass-kicking that they may show up in even greater numbers than expected. Check out the fundraising haul Mitt saw the first 48 hours after the Denver debacle. Good lord.

Update: With today’s Politico poll showing Obama up one and the race tied in both Rasmussen’s and Gallup’s trackers, O’s lead in the poll of polls is down to just half a point.