Politico/GWU poll shows virtual tie, Romney improving among independents

Welcome to October! Today must be Poll Day, as media groups try to determine the lay of the land ahead of the first debate on Wednesday.  The new Washington Post/ABC News poll put the national race in a virtual tie at 49/47 for Barack Obama, and so does the new Politico/GWU Battleground Poll.  In both cases, the national results look more or less like stasis, except the Battleground poll shows a little movement for Romney among independents — and a slight slackening of Democratic enthusiasm:

A new POLITICO/George Washington University Battleground Poll of likely voters shows President Barack Obama ahead 49 percent to 47 percent, a point closer than a week ago and still within the margin of error.

Romney now leads by 4 points among independents, up slightly from a week ago. The Republican must overperform with that group to make up for the near monolithic support of African-Americans for Obama, as well as the huge Democratic advantage among Latinos and women.

I’m not sure that’s true, although it could be.  Obama won independents by eight on his way to a seven-point overall victory in 2008, and arguably the turnout among those minority groups was historic in support of Obama.  Unless they’re planning to turn out in even bigger numbers this time around, Obama can’t afford to lose independents.

Speaking of turnout …

Democratic intensity has slipped slightly to 75 percent. A week before last, still in the afterglow of their convention, 81 percent of Democrats called themselves “extremely likely” to vote. Republican enthusiasm, meanwhile, held steady around 80 percent.

The Democratic strategy has clearly been a base-turnout model, which requires a lot of enthusiasm among the party faithful. If that has begun to slack off, Democrats can’t afford to lose independents to Romney unless they can suppress Republican and independent turnout.  That’s what they’ve tried to do with their Romney-just-might-be-a-felon! campaign this summer, but so far it doesn’t appear to be succeeding.

There isn’t any sampling data for the Battleground poll, but the topline result of a virtual tie seems to be right in line with reality.  In lieu of sample analysis, I’ll leave readers with these thoughts from Jim Geraghty:

Now, when we see small shifts of one or two points week to week, we shouldn’t make that big a deal out of it, whether the news is good or bad. But when Obama is ahead by 2 in these two, ahead by 2 in Rasmussen’s tracking poll, and up 5 in Gallup’s tracking poll… the idea that Obama has a small but consistent lead seems increasingly plausible, with he in the high 40s and Romney in the mid 40s. A tough climb ahead for Romney, but not an insurmountable one, since the remaining undecideds are unlikely to hold many more votes for the incumbent.

One of the factors that is striking about recent polling is the intense divide on perceptions of how the country is doing. In the Battleground poll: “Among all likely voters, 56 percent say the country is on the wrong track. This number has fallen because 72 percent of Democrats and 73 percent of African-Americans now say the country is on the right track. Yet two in three independents still think the country’s on the wrong track.”

The term “faith-based initiative” comes to mind.

Nothing changes until at least after this week’s debate, and it might take all three to break one candidate out from the other.

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