WaPo-ABC tracking poll: Most see U.S. on ‘wrong track’. So can Obama win?

November 2, 2012

Most likely voters see the country as seriously offtrack; barely half say the president is doing a good job; and the challenger’s supporters rival the incumbent’s when it comes to being “fired up,” making for a precarious situation for President Obama as the election nears.

But it is no sure thing for Republican Mitt Romney, either, according to the latest release of the Washington Post-ABC News tracking poll.

In the new survey, 49 percent back Romney, and 48 percent Obama, marking the eighth consecutive day with both candidates at either 48 or 49 percent. The poll’s margin of sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.

Romney’s campaign has adopted the mantle of “change,” appealing to a probable electorate that mostly sees the country as pretty seriously off course. Fifty-five percent of likely voters say things are on the wrong track; 43 percent see things as heading in the right direction. Still, that’s a far less negative viewpoint than the president and his party faced on the eve of the 2010 midterm “shellacking,” when 71 percent said things were badly off course.

Assessments are also far under fall 2008 levels, when “wrong track” was at 85 percent just before Election Day after peaking at 91 percent, enabling then-candidate Obama to carry “change” all the way to the White House. Friday’s numbers on this question are very similar to those in 2004, when George W. Bush eked out his reelection bid, and to 1996 when Bill Clinton won handily. And they are far better than they were in 1992, just before Clinton beat out George H.W. Bush.

Voters who see things as off course side with Romney by an enormous margin, 85 to 11 percent. Those who have a positive assessment of the country's direction overwhelmingly support the president, 93 to 4 percent.

But Obama is also in tenuous territory with an approval rating of 50 percent among likely voters. Just as many, 49 percent, disapprove, and “strong disapprovers” continue to outnumber those who are intensely supportive. On the eve of his win in 2004, 52 percent of likely voters approved the way Bush was doing his job, 46 percent disapproved. Before he won in 1996, 58 percent of likely voters gave Clinton positive marks; 38 negative ones.

Eight years ago, Bush’s supporters were also significantly more enthusiastic than were those planning to vote for his opponent, Democrat John F. Kerry. Now, there is a smaller gap: 66 percent of Obama’s backers are “very enthusiastic” about his candidacy, but nearly as many of Romney’s (62 percent) are solidly behind his. (In 2008, Obama had a huge advantage over Republican John S. McCain in this area.)

For most, the election is four days away, but for nearly a third of all voters in “tossup” states, it is already over. Across Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin, 32 percent of all likely voters say they have already cast their vote. Nationally, 22 percent say they have already voted.

The Post-ABC tracking poll is a series of consecutive one-night “waves” of interviews reported as a rolling, multi-night average. The new results are for interviews conducted Oct. 29-Nov. 1, among a random sample of 1,535 likely voters.

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Aaron Blake | November 2, 2012