Don’t focus on the topline numbers since it’s hard to gauge how reliable they are. The Fox poll has O leading 49/40 based on a sample of D+9; last month he led 45/41 with a sample of just D+4. As for CNN, they’ve got Obama up 52/45 but provide no partisan breakdown with which to judge the sample.
What to do, then? Let’s focus on the indies. CNN:
The margin of error increases for a subsample, as you can see, but that’s a lot of cushion for the Unicorn Prince. No mystery where it’s coming from, either: According to CNN, 52 percent of indies have an unfavorable view of Romney now compared to just 40 percent who had one in May. Fox sees a similar overall margin:
Lots of undecideds there, obviously, but the trendlines in Romney’s favorables aren’t encouraging after a solid month of Bain-mania. CNN’s and Fox’s numbers, respectively:
Amazingly, The One’s not paying much of a price yet for negativity. When asked if Romney has attacked Obama unfairly, the response is 44/50 between “has” and “has not.” Obama’s numbers are almost identical at 45/49, suggesting that perceptions on this question are still breaking along predictable party lines. Maybe that’ll change in the next week or two; this poll was conducted over the last few days, before the sleaze-tastic steelworker ad really started buzzing.
I don’t like the looks of either of these numbers, though:
Of the last four elections, only Clinton in 1996 had more lopsided numbers on that last question. (On the other hand, by a margin of 52/37, voters expected Gore to defeat Bush as of mid-September 2000.) Here’s the key question: Given that Romney and the constellation of conservative Super PACs have yet to really unload on O, there’s obviously going to be some movement in his numbers down the line just as there’s been movement in Romney’s numbers now after the Bain attacks. But how much? The two sides aren’t similarly situated; Romney’s an unknown quantity for most while Obama’s been the most famous man on the planet for four years. Not only does that make it harder for the GOP to define him than it was for him to define Mitt, but it gives O a much simpler task with regard to the shrinking pool of undecideds. Those people are already wary of reelecting him (that’s why they’re undecided), so they’re essentially Romney persuadables. Romney needs to persuade them, but all Obama needs to do is keep Romney on the defensive and keep the campaign dumb and nasty so that those persuadables stop caring and stay home. It’s incredibly cynical but it’s his best bet. If you believe these two polls, it’s working okay so far.