The new numbers reflect a stubborn constancy: Only twice in 13 surveys over more than a year has either candidate held a lead exceeding the poll’s margin of sampling error. Now, the campaign appears destined to remain extremely close in the final four months before Election Day.
The fundamentals seem firmly planted: About two-thirds of Americans consider the country seriously off course, a majority have not approved of Obama’s overall job performance in more than a year, and the president remains in negative territory on dealing with the economy, health care and immigration. Also unmoved since fall are Americans’ attitudes toward spending, with as many saying they would prefer an increase in federal spending to try to spur economic growth as wanting to prioritize deficit reduction.
The stability persists despite the costliest blitz of early campaign advertising the country has ever seen. Both sides have run some positive ads, but the Obama team and its allies have relentlessly attacked Romney’s experience at Bain Capital, an investment firm the Republican co-founded, in its paid spots. Romney and his supporters, meanwhile, have focused a considerable portion of spending on Obama’s economic record.
The lack of movement underscores intense polarization — about nine in 10 Republicans back Romney, and a similar proportion of Democrats support Obama — and a relatively small percentage of voters say there is a “good chance” that they could change their minds before November.
At this point, 74 percent of all voters are “definitely” supporting Obama or Romney, and 12 percent say it is unlikely that they will switch from one to the other, making the race a settled issue for nearly nine in 10 voters. For both campaigns, such a high level of early commitment shifts the focus to turnout — and to which side can muster the most effective get-out-the-vote operation.
Obama still benefits from a clear, but dwindling, enthusiasm gap. Just over half, 51 percent, of his supporters back his candidacy “very enthusiastically,” compared with 38 percent of Romney’s. There is also a difference in motivation, with 75 percent of Obama supporters saying their vote is “for” him, in contrast with 59 percent of Romney’s backers saying their vote is “against” Obama. (There was a similar distinction in 2004, with President George W. Bush’s supporters affirmatively behind him, and most of Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry’s aligned in opposition to the Republican.)
Romney’s business background has been a focus of the ads against him — and the spots have had some results. Compared with February, more people in the eight states identified as “tossups” by The Washington Post now say Romney did more to cut than create jobs in the United States when he worked as a corporate investor before entering politics. And twice as many swing-state voters consider Romney’s work in buying and restructuring companies a reason to oppose, rather than to support, his candidacy. Just over half of all voters say that work is not a big factor for them.