Politico-GWU poll: Race still a virtual dead heat

Politico headlines their analysis of their latest Battleground Poll with GWU by claiming that “President Obama pulls ahead of Mitt Romney,” but only within the margin of error.  At 50/47 among likely voters, it’s mildly good news for Obama, especially by reaching the 50% mark that had eluded him in previous iterations of the poll.  However, in a sample of just over 800 likely voters in a national poll, the survey confirms that the race is more or less static heading into the debates:

President Barack Obama has opened a national lead in a tight race that’s been static for much of the year.

A new POLITICO/George Washington University Battleground Poll of likely voters finds little good news for Mitt Romney but a race that remains competitive.

Obama leads 50 percent to 47 percent, which is within the margin of error. His 50 percent job approval rating puts him at a crucial threshold for an incumbent seeking reelection. It’s an uptick from the spring and summer, but 48 percent still disapprove.

Romney, meanwhile, finds himself sliding in the wake of two events — the choice of his running mate and the Republican national convention — that were supposed to buoy his candidacy. His unfavorable rating ticked up from 46 percent to 49 percent over the past seven weeks, as the share viewing him favorably held steady at 46 percent. Personal likability boosts the president, who is viewed favorably by 53 percent.

The survey was conducted by a bipartisan team of pollsters, with widely divergent views of the data.  Democratic pollster Celinda Lake pointed to the favorability change and claimed Romney is “in deep, deep trouble,” which is the problem when partisans poll.  A shift from 46% to 49% over seven weeks is statistical noise, within the margin of error and basically meaningless.

Republican pollster Ed Goeas gives a different take, after noting that the difference between this poll and the BG survey from seven weeks ago was a one-half-percent shift toward Obama:

The past several weeks have been filled with news stories, editorials and columns heaping criticism on the tactics and strategy of the Romney campaign.  Many of these opinion pieces even suggested that Romney’s only hope for winning is to make substantial changes to his campaign.  Much of this analysis is based on the premise that Romney is out of touch and has not been making an affirmative case to middle-class voters. His comments at a private fundraiser in May were pointed to as an illustration that he could never identify with and win the support of many middle-class voters.  We took a special look at middle-class voters, and middle-class families in particular, in this latest POLITICO-George Washington University Battleground Poll and found that not to be the case. In fact, on every measure it is Romney who is winning the battle for the support of middle-class families.

Overall, Obama leads Romney by just 3 points on the ballot (50 percent to 47 percent) – which before we rounded up, is actually a 2.6 point lead and only up a half-a-percentage point from the 2.1 point lead for Obama in our last Battleground poll in early August.  In our latest POLITICO-George Washington University Battleground Poll with middle-class families, which comprise about 54 percent of the total American electorate and usually split in their vote behavior between Republicans and Democrats, Romney holds a 14-point advantage (55 percent to 41 percent).  Middle-class families are more inclined to believe the country is on the wrong track (34 percent right direction, 62 percent wrong track), are more likely to hold an unfavorable view of Obama (48 percent favorable, 51 percent unfavorable), and hold a more favorable view of Romney (51 percent favorable, 44 percent unfavorable) and Paul Ryan (46 percent favorable, 35 percent unfavorable) than the overall electorate.  These middle-class families also hold a majority disapproval rating on the job Obama is doing as president (45 percent approve, 54 percent disapprove), and turn even more negative toward  Obama on specific areas; the economy 56 percent disapprove; spending 61 percent disapprove; taxes, 53 percent disapprove; Medicare 48 percent disapprove; and even foreign policy 50 percent disapprove.

All of this data make clear that Romney has won the strong support of middle-class families and is leading the president on an overwhelming majority of key measurements beyond just the ballot.  In fact, when respondents were asked who, Obama or Romney, would best handle a variety of issues, Romney led on all but one including the economy (+9 percent), foreign policy (+3 percent), spending (+15 percent), taxes (+7 percent), Medicare (+2 percent), and jobs (+10 percent).  Ironically, the one measurement Obama led Romney on was “standing up for the middle class” (+8 Obama), reinforcing that often the Democrats win the message war with the middle class, but not their hearts and souls.

For those wondering, the sample in this poll is actually pretty decent.  The D/R/I is 34/31/33 without leaners, 43/40/15 with leaners.  That’s a defensible turnout model for the election; D+3 would be just about in the middle from 2008’s D+7 and 2010’s even turnout.

Otherwise, there are a few interesting points from the extensive internals published from the survey.  First, Romney is leading by 2 among independents, 46/44, which Obama won by 8 in 2008.  The gender gap favored Obama by 14 in his last election (+13 among women, +1 among men), but he’s down to a +4 in this poll; Romney wins men by 6, 51/45, while Obama wins women by 10, 53/43.  Romney wins married voters by 14 points, 55/41, and wins married women by five at 51/46, but trails among the single and divorced in both genders by wide margins.  Romney is doing better in McCain states from 2008 (60/37) than Obama is in states he won in 2008 (54/42).  Romney’s also winning ticket splitters by 10, 48/38.

One more data point: Despite a poll that came out last week, this survey shows Romney winning the Catholic vote by eight points, 51/43, but the Baptist vote by only one point, 49/48.  The Catholic vote has been a pretty clear bellwether in American elections over the last several decades.  If Obama is losing independents and Catholics and is only down to a +4 gender gap, the road to victory looks pretty narrow indeed.