5 takeaways from the Washington Post Ohio and Florida polls

September 25, 2012

This morning the Post released two new polls in Ohio and Florida -- both of which showed President Obama running ahead of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney in perhaps the two most critical swing states in the country.


The topline numbers are sure to draw the lion's share of attention but there's plenty of great (and telling) data in the guts of the poll.  We have five takeaways from the poll below; they're in no particular order other than the order they struck us in.

One thing before we get to those takeaways. Much has been made of late -- particularly by conservatives -- that the samples being used by every pollster other than Rasmussen Research are flawed.

While we strongly disagree with that contention -- and explain why in a piece we wrote last week on how people misunderstand party ID in polling -- we thought it made sense to go through the sample of each poll before we get started.

In Ohio, the Post sample among likely voters was 37 percent Democrat, 30 percent Republican and 30 percent independent. In 2008 Ohio exit polling, the breakdown was 39 percent Democrat, 31 percent Republican and 30 percent independent.

In Florida, the Post sample among likely voters was 33 percent Democrat, 32 percent Republican and 31 percent independent. In 2008 exit polling in Florida, it was 37 percent Democrat, 34 percent Republican and 29 percent independent.

Now, to the takeaways.

* Obama's "get you" edge: If you believe that voters in presidential elections are at least as influenced by how they feel about the candidates as by specific issue positions (and we do), then the question on whether Obama or Romney betters understand the "economic problems people in the country are having" is of critical importance to the outcome. And, that works heavily in President Obama's favor in both Ohio and Florida. In Ohio, President Obama is up a whopping 23 points on Romney on that question while the Obama advantage in Florida is 14 points. Romney isn't likely to win on the empathy question but he can't afford to lose it as badly as he currently is.

* Pessimism still reigns....: A majority of registered voters in Florida (55 percent) and Ohio (56 percent) say that things have "gotten pretty seriously off of the wrong track" in the country.  That should provide a bit of an opening for Romney as he tries to make the case in the final six weeks of the campaign that President Obama promised to make things better and hasn't done so. 

*...But Obama's economic numbers are getting better: Perhaps the most discouraging finding for Republicans in the two new WaPo state polls is the fact that a majority of registered voters in Ohio and Florida approve of the way President Obama is handling the economy.  To be clear, it's not a large majority in either state -- 52 percent in Florida and 53 percent in Ohio --but it's still a remarkable number as the incumbent's standing on that question nationwide has not been nearly that good for the better part of the last year. Add to that data point that Obama has a seven point lead in Ohio and a five point edge in Florida on which candidate do you trust more to handle the economy and you see Romney's problem.

* Auto bailout=political gold for Obama: There's lots of reasons why Obama has opened up a high single-digit lead over Romney in Ohio.  But, one BIG factor is that Obama'a decision to take over the American auto industry early in his term is a major net positive in the state for him. Two thirds (64 percent) of Ohio registered voters said that the "loans to General Motors and Chrysler during the financial market problems" had been a "mostly good" thing for the economy while 29 percent said it had been "mostly bad" for the financial health of the state.  In an election of narrow margins, that's an eye-popping result.

* An Ohio enthusiasm gap: A quick glance at enthusiasm among supporters of the two candidates in Ohio produces a similar result; 90 percent of Obama supporters in Ohio called themselves enthusiastic while 88 percent of Romney supporters in the state said the same. But, drill down another level and you see some differences emerge. Fifty six percent of Ohio Obama voters said they were "very" enthusiastic while 46 percent of Romney supporters in the state described themselves the same way.  That's not an insignificant difference when it comes to the likeliest of likely voters

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Chris Cillizza | September 25, 2012