New battleground-state polls show slight movement toward Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in five of the states that could prove pivotal in the battle for the White House, and in the wake of last week's presidential debate, Romney and President Obama are locked in close races in key swing states.
The polls, all conducted after the debate and released early on Thursday, show a tight race across most of the states, though they also indicate that there has been little relative movement from surveys conducted prior to the debate:
-- Colorado: A new CBS News/New York Times/Quinnipiac University poll shows Romney inching in front of Obama, 48 percent to 47 percent, well within the poll's margin of error.
-- Florida: An NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll shows a tied race, with Obama leading Romney, 48 percent to 47 percent.
-- Ohio: Obama remains ahead of Romney in the Buckeye State, 51 percent to 45 percent, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll.
-- Virginia: An NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll shows the two candidates virtually tied, 48 percent for Romney, 47 percent for Obama. But a CBS News/New York Times/Quinnipiac University poll shows Obama leading, 51 percent to 46 percent.
-- Wisconsin: Obama leads in a CBS News/New York Times/Quinnipiac University poll, 50 percent to 47 percent, within the poll's margin of error.
"The shifts are too small to measure," said Quinnipiac's Peter Brown of the three surveys his institute conducted for CBS News and The New York Times, "but the races in Wisconsin and Colorado are now too close to call."
Whereas Virginia represented Obama's strongest state in the Quinnipiac polls, Marist found the opposite.
"Among the three battleground states we're looking at today -- Virginia, Florida, and Ohio -- Virginia is Romney's best state," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Poll.
The CBS News/New York Times/Quinnipiac University Colorado poll shows no significant movement. In mid-September, Obama led by a single point, 48 percent to 47 percent.
Obama wins 94 percent of Democrats, compared to Romney's 89 percent among Republicans. Romney holds a slight edge among independents, 49 percent to 45 percent; independents make up 39 percent of the likely voters who responded to the poll.
"The key to Mitt Romney's strength in Colorado is independent voter support," said Quinnipiac's Brown.
Romney has reestablished his advantage on the economy, with likely voters favoring him when asked who would do a better job on the issue, 52 percent to 44 percent. In early August, voters thought Romney would do the better job by a 10-point margin, but that gap had closed to within a single point in mid-September. Among independent voters, Romney leads on the economy by 12 points, 53 percent to 41 percent.
The NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll in Florida is unchanged from immediately before the debate, when Obama led Romney, 47 percent to 46 percent. Each candidate gained a point, an insignificant addition.
Obama wins 93 percent of Democrats, while Romney takes 90 percent of Republicans. Independents tilt to Romney, 48 percent to 43 percent. Democrats made up 37 percent of Marist's likely-voter pool, Republicans 33 percent, and independents 29 percent.
The candidates run roughly even among high-enthusiasm voters, a 2-point Romney advantage, and among voters who strongly support their candidate, a 1-point Romney lead.
Romney leads among white voters, 57 percent to 38 percent. That exceeds Sen. John McCain's performance among whites in 2008, according to exit polls, when he won white voters 56 percent to 42 percent.
Romney also runs stronger than McCain among Hispanic voters, trailing by only two points; Obama won Latinos by 15 points in 2008. But Latinos make up a larger share of Marist's likely-voter pool, 20 percent, than they did in the 2008 electorate, when they comprised 14 percent of voters.
By a 3-point margin, voters think Romney will do a better job handling the economy, 48 percent to 45 percent. That compares to a one-point Romney lead on the issue before the debate.
Obama's firewall in the Buckeye State emerges from a difficult week mostly unaffected. His 6-point lead in Ohio is a tick down from his 8-point advantage before the debate, though the change is not statistically significant.
Part of Obama's advantage in Ohio is built from voters who have already cast their ballots or say they will before Election Day. Obama leads among the 35 percent of self-reported early voters, 60 percent to 38 percent.
"It's all about early voting for Obama in Ohio," said Marist's Miringoff. "Among those who will vote on Election Day, there is only a two-point Obama-Romney difference."
The other factor contributing to Obama's enduring advantage in Ohio is a surge of Democratic identification. Democrats make up 40 percent of Marist's likely-voter pool, compared to just 29 percent for Republicans. As a result, Romney actually leads among independents, 49 percent to 41 percent. Marist does not weight its polls according to party identification, for adults, registered voters, or likely voters.
The poll does show a slightly closer race among high-enthusiasm voters, with Obama leading by 3 points, 50 percent to 47 percent. Obama leads by 4 points among those voters who strongly support their candidate, 52 percent to 48 percent.
Romney remains unpopular among likely voters in Ohio. Just 44 percent have a favorable opinion of Romney, compared to 50 percent who view him unfavorably. Romney holds a net-positive favorable rating in the other two states surveyed by Marist.
Obama maintains his edge on the economy in Ohio, the poll shows, with 49 percent saying they think he would do the better job, compared to 45 percent who pick Romney.
While the polls diverge in Virginia, neither survey represents a significant change from the respective pollster's previous look at the race. In the NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll conducted right before the debate, Obama led Romney, 48 percent to 46 percent, making the new poll a net gain of 3 points for Romney. In last month's CBS News/New York Times/Quinnipiac University poll, Obama led, 50 percent to 46 percent, making that a net gain of 1 point for Obama.
The differences between the two polls stem from diversions in the results among independent voters. The NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll shows Romney carrying independents, 50 percent to 42 percent. But the CBS News/New York Times/Quinnipiac University poll shows the two candidates neck-and-neck, with Obama leading, 48 percent to 46 percent.
The polls diverge in other ways. Romney leads by 15 points among men in the Marist poll, and by 7 in the Quinnipiac poll.
But among other groups, the polls are largely in sync. Women tilt toward Obama by 12 points in the Marist poll and by 16 points in the Quinnipiac poll. The Marist poll shows Romney leading among white voters by 25 points, while he leads by 21 in the Quinnipiac poll.
The polls also show similar results on the question of which candidate would do a better job handling the economy: Romney leads 48 percent to 45 percent in the Marist poll, while Obama ticks up in the Quinnipiac poll to tie Romney at 48 percent.
Obama's 3-point lead in the CBS News/New York Times/Quinnipiac University poll in Wisconsin represents a slight decline from the 6-point edge he enjoyed in mid-September, while more closely resembling the 2-point advantage he sported in August, prior to the two parties' conventions.
The new poll shows each candidate winning more than 90 percent of their own partisans, while independent voters are split--48 percent for Romney, and 46 percent for Obama.
Men back Romney, 51 percent to 46 percent, but women choose Obama, 53 percent to 43 percent.
The candidates run virtually even on the question of who would do a better job handling the economy; 49 percent think Romney would do a better job, compared to 47 percent who think Obama would. That is a slight turnaround from mid-September, when 49 percent thought Obama would be better and 46 percent chose Romney.
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., enters Thursday's vice presidential debate relatively well-liked by voters in his home state. Forty-six percent of likely voters view him favorably, while 35 percent have an unfavorable opinion of Ryan. This is a slight improvement from his ratings in mid-September, when 43 percent viewed him favorably and 38 percent viewed him unfavorably.
More than four-in-five Wisconsin voters say they plan to watch the debate, and Ryan goes in as a strong favorite. Nearly half, 49 percent, think the native son of the Badger State will win the debate, compared to 32 percent who think Vice President Joe Biden will win.
The NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist polls were conducted Oct. 7-9. The polls include interviews with 988 likely voters in Florida, 994 in Ohio, and 981 in Virginia. The margin of error for each survey is plus-or-minus 3.1 percentage points.
The CBS News/New York Times/Quinnipiac University polls were conducted Oct. 4-9, surveying 1,254 likely voters in Colorado, 1,288 in Virginia, and 1,327 in Wisconsin. The margins of error are plus-or-minus 2.8 percentage points in Colorado, and 2.7 percentage points in both Virginia and Wisconsin.
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