Seven takeaways from the Pew poll

October 30, 2012

The new Pew poll shows the race between President Obama and Mitt Romney a dead heat among likely voters -- what else is new -- but also provides plenty of other fascinating glimpses into the relative strengths and weaknesses of each man as well as the mindset of the electorate with election day just a week off.


We combed through the poll -- while sequestered in official Fix headquarters to wait out Hurricane Sandy -- and came up with seven takeaways. They are below.

1. A Republican intensity gap: More than three-quarters (76 percent) of Republican and lean Republican voters said they are likely to vote on Nov. 6 as compared with 62 percent of Democrats and lean Democratic voters. That double-digit intensity gap should be concerning for Democrats as, typically, the side whose base is more energized usually winds up winning.

2. Obama's huge "connection" edge: As has been the case in previous Pew data (as well as virtually every other polling conducted in the race) the new Pew survey shows a huge edge to Obama when voters are asked which of the two candidates better connects with "ordinary" Americans. Fifty nine percent of Pew's sample said Obama connects better while 31 percent say Romney does. (Worth noting: That 28-point gap was significantly smaller than the 43-point bulge Obama enjoyed over Romney on the question in mid-September.) If the election comes down to voters asking themselves which of the two men "gets" them better, President Obama will be re-elected.

3. Romney as the "ideas" candidate: Despite Democratic attacks that allege that Romney has offered nothing in the way of new (or specific) ideas on what he would do differently or better than Obama, voters -- at least in the Pew poll -- don't see things that way. Forty six percent say Romney has "new ideas" while 41 percent say the same of Obama. That gap grows to 16 points in Romney's favor when only swing voters are sampled in the Pew data. Romney's lead on the question is exhibit No. 1 on how difficult it is to run as the new/change/fresh face when you are the incumbent president of the United States.

4. First debate mattered more: When we tweeted that Romney's clear win in the first debate probably mattered more than Obama's narrow win in the second debate and less-narrow win in the final debate, liberals blanched. But, the Pew data suggest the first debate simply did matter more. Thirty six percent of people said that the three debates gave them a better opinion of Romney while just 18 percent said the same of Obama. Some of those numbers are explained by the fact that Romney was less well known than Obama going into the first debate and in his solid performance he effectively beat back the caricature the Obama team had crafted of him in their television ad onslaught. Regardless of the reasons though, the debates -- especially the first one -- are the reason Romney is as close as he is in the race today.

5. An overblown gender gap focus?: In the Pew data Romney is losing women by six points. If he keeps that margin on election day, Romney would lose the female vote by less than half the margin that John McCain lost them in 2008. (McCain lost women by 13 points.) In fact, if Romney fell short to Obama among women voters by just six points, it would be the narrowest loss for a Republican presidential candidate among females in more than 20 years. It's worth noting that many other national surveys suggest a wider gender gap than Pew but as we have noted before, the idea that Romney is headed toward anything like a historically large loss among women voters simply isn't born out by the data.

6. Romney overperforming McCain among the young and the old: In 2008, McCain lost 18-29 year olds by 34 points to Obama. In the new Pew poll, Romney is trailing Obama by 21 points among that youngest demographic.  On the other end of the age spectrum, McCain beat Obama by 8 points among voters 65 and older in 2008 but Romney is ahead by 19 points in the latest Pew data. Among 30-44 year olds, Obama is running six points ahead of Romney -- exactly where he was in 2008 against McCain; same goes for voters age 45-64 among whom the two candidate are currently tied just as Obama and McCain wound up in 2008.

7. People still think Obama wins -- but less than a majority: We've long been fascinated with the disconnect between the horse race in national polls, which has tended to show the race extremely close, and the way that people respond to the question of regardless of who they support who they expect to win.  In a March Pew poll, nearly six in 10 respondents (59 percent) said they thought Obama would win as opposed to just 32 percent. That gap has shrunk somewhat in recent months with 49 percent of people now saying Obama will win and 31 percent saying Romney will win. (It's amazing that roughly the same amount of people thought Romney would win in March as do today.)  As Pew notes in a memo on their poll, approximately two thirds (64 percent) of Romney supporters actually think he will win while more than eight in 10 (82 percent) of Obama backers believe their guy will be the victor. That gap may be the reason why Romney has started to say things like "when I am president" at his campaign rallies -- in hopes of finally convincing his supporters who still doubt he will win.

Romney in Ohio, Obama in Washington, as storm seizes attention: Both presidential candidates canceled campaign rallies previously scheduled for Tuesday due to the impact of Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast. Obama is monitoring the storm from Washington, while Romney will attend a storm relief event in Kettering, Ohio -- where he had previously been slated to hold a campaign rally -- on Tuesday morning. 

The Romney campaign is dispatching Ann Romney and GOP vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) to participate in storm relief collection efforts in Wisconsin and Iowa. Ann Romney will also attend a campaign rally in Des Moines on Tuesday evening. Meanwhile, Obama will turn to Bill Clinton to help him campaign in Minnesota. 

American Crossroads hitting the airwaves in Nebraska: The conservative super PAC will launch a new ad buy during the final week of the Nebraska Senate campaign, The Hotline reports. The move suggests state Sen. Deb Fischer's (R) lead over former senator Bob Kerrey (D) may be less secure than it once was. Further evidence: an Omaha World-Herald poll released over the weekend showed Fischer leading Kerrey by only three points. 

Fixbits: 

Sandy has closed the federal government once again on Tuesday. 

Gallup suspended polling for its daily tracking Monday night because of Sandy. 

Romney spoke with FEMA officials about the storm. 

Obama and Romney are running about even in Florida, according to a CNN/ORC International poll.

Vice President Biden said in Ohio that Romney's claim that Jeep was was considering moving all production to China was an "absolutely, patently false assertion." 

Sen. Claire McCaskill's (D-Mo.) mother passed away on Monday at the age of 84. 

Former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson's (R) new TV ad says Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D) "hasn't been for Wisconsin, ever."

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said the mayor of Atlantic City has "been impossible to work with."

House Majority PAC is closing its campaign against Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) with spots hitting him over Medicare and jobs.  

Must-reads:

"Storm throws a wrench into the works of Va. campaigns, voting efforts" -- Amy Gardner, Washington Post 

"Sandy Unlikely to Prompt Change in Date of Election" -- Naftali Bendavid, Wall Street Journal

"Obama, Romney Focus on Sandy: Election? What Election?" -- Beth Reinhard, National Journal

"G.O.P. Tries to Chip Away at Democrats’ Edge in Early Voting" -- Michael Cooper and Jeff Zeleny, New York Times

"Election lawyers ready to challenge alleged illegal voting activity" -- Bill Turque, Washington Post

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Sean Sullivan · October 29, 2012