9 deep(ish) thoughts on the new Washington Post-ABC News poll

September 11, 2012

The big headline out of this morning's Washington Post-ABC News poll is that the presidential race remains an absolute dead heat among those likeliest to vote in eight weeks time.


But, beneath that headline there are all sort of fascinating -- and occasionally contradictory -- data points in the poll that are worth further examination.  We tackle nine of them below.  You can sift through all the data from the poll right here if you want to do a bit of exploring on your own.

One quick note: Our thoughts below are in no particular order other than the order to which they occurred to us as we looked through the poll. And, away we go!

1. Undecideds look a lot like 2004: Thirteen percent of registered voters said there was a chance they would change their minds on which candidate they would vote for, a number far lower than at this time in the 2008 election (20 percent said they could change their minds) but consistent with this time in 2004 (14 percent could change mind).  This is (yet another) affirmation that the closest modern analog to the 2012 race is the 2004 contest; an incredibly well known and well defined incumbent president with major flaws on the issue of the day running against a far-less defined (and not favorably regarded) challenger with very few people even close to undecided on who to pick.

2. Obama's enthusiasm bounce: While the topline of the poll shows that Obama didn't get much of a convention bounce among likely voters (he did among registered voters), it's clear that one place where the convention did help him was in stirring up enthusiasm for his candidacy. In a late August Post-ABC survey, 48 percent of registered voters said they were "very" enthusiastic in their support for Obama; in the latest poll 56 percent said the same.  Also worth noting: Obama now has a ten-point edge over Romney in terms of those who say they are "very" enthusiastic about supporting their chosen candidate.

3. The anti-Obama vote: It's been clear for months now that the election is really between President Obama and his handling of the economy not Obama and Mitt Romney.  Less than half of all Romney supporters said that their vote was "for" Romney while 50 percent said it was "against" Obama. Contrast that with 75 percent of registered voters who said their vote was an affirmation of Obama while just 22 percent said it was a vote against Romney. The simple truth is that Romney is the other guy in this race. To win, he needs voters to decide they want Obama fired and they are comfortable (enough) with the other guy.

4. Dead heat on handling the economy: Romney's strongest talking point in the late August Post-ABC poll was that 50 percent of registered voters thought he would do a better job handling the economy while just 43 percent named Obama. That lead is gone in the September survey with 47 percent of registered voters choosing Obama as better equipped to handle the economy while 45 percent opted for Romney.  The silver lining for Romney? Fifty three percent of registered voters still disapprove of Obama's handling of the economy.

5. Blaming Obama: One of the most fascinating questions we've watched since President Obama came into office is how much people blame him for the current state of the economy. In this latest Post-ABC poll, 48 percent said Obama deserved either "a lot" (22 percent) or "some" (26 percent) of blame for the fact that their financial situation hasn't gotten better since he came in office while 50 percent said he deserved "little" (18 percent) or no (31 percent) blame for it. That divided verdict makes it harder -- though far from impossible -- for Romney to sell the "are you better off" argument politically. Most people clearly don't believe they are better off than they were four years ago but, at least according to this poll, they also don't have a clear view on who is to blame for that reality.

6. Romney "gets" small business: Perhaps the best data point in the entire poll for Romney comes when people are asked if Romney "understand[s] what it takes to build a successful small business in this country".  Two thirds of registered voters say he does while just 28 percent say Romney doesn't understand building small businesses. Those numbers compare favorably with Obama's standing on the same question with 48 percent saying the incumbent understands small business and 48 percent saying he doesn't.  That suggests that Romney's attack on "you didn't build that" -- whether or not you think the comment was taken out of context -- has real potential to succeed.

7. Government is the problem: Since the early 1990s, the country has been in a back and forth battle over how much government is enough.  Today, it appears as though the less is more argument has won out -- for the moment.  Fifty three percent of people say that government programs do more to interfere in peoples' lives while 40 percent say they do more to improve peoples' lives.  Compare those numbers to 2004 at this time when 46 percent said government did more to improve peoples' lives while 44 percent said it did more to interfere.

8. People don't trust politicians: More than four in ten registered voters say that the campaigns of Obama (42 percent) and Romney (48 percent) are "intentionally misleading people.  Four in ten! Not surprisingly, these numbers break down heavily along partisan lines with Republicans believing Obama is purposefully misleading people and Democrats believing the same of Romney.  Depressing, no?

9. Obama and the race card: Three in ten registered voters believe that President Obama is "using the issue of race in the election" -- with 20 percent saying he is doing so inappropriately and 11 percent saying he is doing so appropriately.  Less than one in five (18 percent) of registered voters said Romney is using race in the campaign.

Read more from PostPolitics

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Biden invites firefighters over for beer, for real

Nervous Republicans: So much for Ryan pick

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Aaron Blake · September 11, 2012