Election 2012

Stunning Pew poll puts Romney in the lead

Stunning Pew poll puts Romney in the lead

Much excitement among Romney supporters has been generated by a stunning new Pew Research Center poll that shows him surging to a four-point lead among likely voters over President Obama, 49-45.  Obama was eight points ahead in last month’s Pew survey.

This is largely attributed to Romney’s debate victory, which is causing pundits across the political spectrum to rewrite the conventional wisdom that “debates don’t really matter.”  This is one of the first major polls to be conducted entirely after the debate.  The recent Gallup survey, which described Romney’s debate performance as the biggest win ever recorded, included several days of data from before the October 3encounter between the candidates.

The really amazing thing about the Pew poll is how tectonic the shift in Romney’s favor has been.  “By about three-to-one, voters say Romney did a better job than Obama in the Oct. 3 debate, and the Republican is now better regarded on most personal dimensions and on most issues than he was in September,” says the Pew analysis.  “Romney is seen as the candidate who has new ideas and is viewed as better able than Obama to improve the jobs situation and reduce the budget deficit.”

According to this poll, Romney supporters are considerably more engaged in the campaign than Obama supporters, and Obama’s post-convention edge in enthusiasm has vanished.  I suspected that the shrill tone of the Democrat convention would produce an ephemeral surge of enthusiasm, a short –term bump that would quickly dissipate in a serious election season.

Romney’s personal favorability rating is now slightly higher than Obama’s.  Romney gets a strong 7-point edge as “the candidate who has new ideas.”  (Even making due allowances for partisan loyalty, it’s amazing that 40 percent of respondents nevertheless think Obama has any new ideas.  Presumably they think he’s keeping them a secret until after the election, when he’ll reveal them as a delightful Christmas surprise.)  The challenger is far ahead on reducing the deficit and improving the job situation.

Romney has either drawn even or cut deeply into Obama’s lead on all of the other internal issues, in some cases making double-digit gains.  But most remarkably, according to this new poll, the “gender gap” is gone.  Romney and Obama are now even among women at 47-47.  (There’s that number 47 again!)  This represents an astonishing 18-point shift toward Romney among women voters over last month’s Pew survey.

Besides the usual caveats about studying all political polls – including both those that look good for your preferred candidate, and those which don’t – it has been suggested that this particular poll over-sampled Republicans.  Until now, many polls have been pushing absurd samples of Democrat +8 and higher; the actual partisan breakdown of the national electorate is closer to Democrat +3; and the Pew survey is tilted Republican +3.  It’s been interesting watching media figures who used to dismiss complaints about sample bias suddenly become very interested in the topic when the Pew poll landed on their desks.

But really, a 6-point Republican over-sample is every bit as meaningful a data point as 6-point Democrat over-samples.  One may speculate that a strong surge by a candidate really will prompt a good number of respondents to change how they identify their partisan affiliation to pollsters – people like to be on the winning team.  That shift in allegiance might even carry all the way through to the ballot box in November.

And since so many people use modern telecom conveniences like Caller ID to avoid talking to pollsters, there is a growing sense that polls tend to capture the more… energetic slice of the electorate at any given moment.  Those who are really jazzed about Romney’s big debate win, or exceptionally grumpy about Obama’s disappointing performance, are more likely to answer the phone and tell a pollster about it.

If there’s a serious shift among the electorate toward Romney, powerful enough to invalidate the current Democrat +3 electoral model, it would take a few more polling cycles to verify it.   And, of course, the great big poll in November will trump them all.  But this Pew poll is very good news for the Romney campaign, and it couldn’t be much worse for Obama, particularly if the trends it identifies continue to develop in Romney’s favor.

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