8 deep(ish) thoughts on the Washington Post-ABC poll

October 15, 2012

If you love political polls, you are living in a golden age.

The new Washington Post-ABC News poll came out last night at midnight and it is absolutely chockfull of goodies. (If you, like us, define "goodies" as interesting data points. You do, right? Right?)  We've scoured the data -- you can too right here -- and come up with eight deep(ish) thoughts on it.  (Also worth reading: What WonkBlog found notable in the poll.)

Have some takeaways of your own?  The comments section awaits.

* No one is undecided: President Obama took 49 percent to Romney's 46 percent in the poll's head-to-head matchup among likely voters. One percent of people said they would vote for a different candidate (Gary Johnson boomlet!), one percent said they would vote for neither candidate and two percent said they had no opinion.  Among people who said they were supporting either Obama or Romney just two percent said there was a "good" chance they would change their minds.  Add it all up and you have six percent of the electorate who isn't already for one of the candidates solidly. That's minuscule.

* Romney enthusiasm soars: Romney's showing in the first presidential debate did him a lot of good -- more on that below -- but its most obvious and beneficial impact for the Republican nominee is that GOP voters are now enthusiastic about backing him. As recently as late September, less than half (48 percent) of Romney supporters said they were "very" enthusiastic about supporting him. Now that number is up to 59 percent among registered voters and 62 percent among likely voters.  What's clear is that the first debate gave reason for Romney backers to vote for him not just against President Obama.

* And speaking of the debate...: The poll makes clear that Romney won a lopsided -- the most lopsided in modern presidential history for a challenger candidate? -- victory over Obama in the first debate. Seventy one percent of likely voters said Romney won the debate while just 17 percent said Obama was victorious. Seven percent said it was a draw. More than one in every three (35 percent) of registered voters said they had a better opinion of Romney after the debate while 14 percent said they had a worse opinion and 48 percent said their opinion had not changed. By contrast, 19 percent said they had a worse opinion of Obama after the debate, nine percent said they had a better opinion and 70 percent said their opinion had not changed.

* Anxiety about the future reigns: When those saying they support Romney or Obama were asked whether they felt anxious about how their preferred candidate would "perform as president", a startling 54 percent of likely voters said they were anxious about that prospect. And that was among the people who support them! Fifty six percent of likely voters said they were anxious about Obama as president for the next four years while 52 percent said the same of Romney. And, more than a quarter of each candidate's supporters are "very anxious" about their current choice.Talk about a "devil you know vs devil you don't" choice!

* Obama's economic edge...: A majority of people -- 52 percent of likely voters -- still disapprove of President Obama's handling of the economy. But, the incumbent has made up ground on Romney on the question of which candidate is better equipped to turn things around economically. Forty eight percent of registered voters said they trusted Obama more on the economy while 44 percent chose Romney. (Among likely voters the margin was narrower with 48 percent naming Obama and 47 percent opting for Romney.) As recently as late August, Obama trailed Romney by seven points on that same question in Post-ABC polling.

*...and yet (slightly) more confidence in Romney: Asked to express their level of confidence that "the country will get back on track economically" if President Obama was re-elected, 49 percent said they were confident while 51 percent said they were not confident. The numbers on that question were exactly reversed for Romney -- 51 percent confident, 49 percent not confident. More than one in three (37 percent) of registered voters said they would be "not at all" confident if Obama was re-elected while 29 percent said the same of Romney. 

* The likability Grand Canyon: In a poll in which the two candidates are separated by a handful of points on virtually every question, the massive canyon on likability stands out. Sixty percent of registered voters said that Obama was the "more friendly and likable" person while 30 percent chose Romney. (Among likely voters, it was 58 percent for Obama, 32 percent for Romney.) What's remarkable is that even with Romney clearly winning that first debate, the likability question has barely budged.  At the end of September, Obama had a 32-point edge on the question in Post-ABC polling.  What's less clear: Will likability make up undecideds' minds?

* Party ID update: In the latest Post-ABC poll the likely voter sample looked like this: 35 Democrat, 26 percent Republican and 33 percent independent.  In the last Post-ABC poll among likely voters, the sample was more Republican and less Democratic; Democrats comprised 33 percent, Republicans 30 percent and independents 33 percent. How do those numbers stack up against recent president exit polls? In 2008, the electorate was 39 percent Democrat, 32 percent Republican and 29 percent independent. In 2004, it was 37 percent Democrat, 37 percent Republican and 28 percent independent. Want more on party ID? Read our piece on how it's become (wrongly) partisan and Post pollster Jon Cohen's piece on the 5 myths about political polling

Read more from PostPolitics

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