Candidates in Dead Heat As GOP Convention Begins
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The Fiscal Times
August 27, 2012

As Republicans prepare to formally nominate Mitt Romney as their presidential candidate in Tampa on Tuesday, two new national polls show the former Massachusetts governor and President Obama locked in a virtual tie among voters across the country.

The surveys, by the Washington Post-ABC News and the Washington Times/ JZ Analytics, indicate that after hundreds of millions of dollars worth of attack campaign ads, relentless bitter exchanges between the two camps, and heated rhetoric over the economy, abortion rights and the future of Medicare, neither candidate has been able to significantly move the needle in the presidential horse race.

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Romney’s choice of Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., as his running mate may have energized the Republican’s conservative base, but so far it’s done little to broaden the support of the GOP ticket among independents and undecided voters who will determine the outcome of the November election. Nonetheless, voters are increasingly enthusiastic about their pick –- and the lines are hardening.

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"Both guys are consolidating their base and their base has now decided, 'Hey, this is our guy, he's good enough,'" said John Zogby, the pollster who conducted the Washington Times/JZ Analytics survey late last week. “The pressure is all on Mitt Romney to show not only that he can unify his party but also that he can control his right flank.”

The Post-ABC poll puts Romney a centimeter ahead of Obama, 47 percent to 46 percent among registered voters, while the Washington Times/JZ Analytics poll puts both candidates at 45.7 percent. Both the Republicans and Democrats are hoping to get a bump in the polls from their back-to-back national conventions, beginning with a formal roll call vote in Tampa tomorrow to nominate Romney and his much-anticipated acceptance speech Thursday night. Next week, Democrats will gather in Charlotte, N.C., to nominate Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden for a second term.

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But as the polls suggest, the narrative of the campaign is pretty much set – with the economy far and away the most dominant issue and a majority of voters dissatisfied with Obama’s performance but uncertain if they want to change leaders. The outcome is likely to be determined by a relative handful of voters in key battleground states.

Among the highlights of the two polls:

  • Seventy-two percent of voters say the president’s handling of the economy will be a “major factor” in their vote in November. Obama continues to get more negative reviews than positive ones for his handling of the economy, and there is modest hope at best that the economy would improve considerably in a second Obama administration.
  • Romney now holds a slender seven-point edge among registered voters when it comes to handling the economy, according to the Post-ABC News poll. And Romney has a clear advantage over Obama when it comes to dealing with the federal budget deficit, the poll shows.
  • On 13 issues and attributes tested in the Post-ABC poll, Obama holds commanding double-digit leads among voters on three social issues, women’s issues and being more friendly and likeable. On that likability attribute, Obama’s lead over Romney is overwhelming – 61 percent to 27 percent.
  • But as The Washington Times-JZ Analytics Poll showed, the intensity of feeling against Obama among moderate and conservative Republicans is far greater than the intensity of opposition against Romney among liberal and moderate Democrats.  Asked why they were voting for Romney, nearly 17 percent of his supporters said it was because they “really disliked Obama,” compared to 9.4 percent of Obama supporters who said they “really dislike Romney.”
  • The Washington Times–JZ Analytics Poll showed a sizable gender gap, with Romney winning 54 percent of men and Obama winning 54 percent of women.
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Historically, women tend to lean Democratic in presidential elections. In 2008, Obama defeated Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona by eight points, standing even with McCain among male voters, while holding a 13-point lead over McCain among female voters, according to a Pew Research Center poll. In 2004, 51 percent of women voted for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry of Massachusetts over Republican President George W. Bush.

The GOP’s problems in attracting women voters resurfaced during the 2012 GOP primary season, when former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and other Republican candidates  sharply attacked the Obama administration’s mandated contraception policy and affirmed their anti-abortion stands. And Republican Rep. Todd Akin’s comments a week ago about “legitimate rape” and women’s ability to “shut down” their bodies in such circumstances in his bid for a Missouri Senate seat touched off  a national controversy over Republicans’ views on women’s reproductive rights.

“The [Republican] party's committee platform approved an anti-abortion plank that champions a human life amendment to the U.S. Constitution without mentioning any exception for rape, incest or preservation of the health or life of the woman,” said the National Organization for Women in a written statement. “The Republican Party has demonstrated again why Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are wrong for women in the U.S.”

Ryan, a Roman Catholic, has backed tough anti-abortion policies in Congress and is opposed to abortion even in the case of rape or to save a mother’s life.  However, on questions of where the new GOP ticket stands on this issue, Ryan deferred to Romney, who would allow abortions in the case of rape or saving the life of the mother.

  • Voters are split on a controversial House-passed budget and tax plan drafted by Ryan with nearly 42 percent of voters in favor of it and 42.4 percent opposed, according to the Washington Times-JZ Analytics Poll.  Voters also believe that a Romney administration would be much more likely to try to cut the Medicare program for seniors than would Obama and the Democrats. By a margin of 46.3 percent to 27.3 percent, voters said that Romney and the GOP would be more likely to try to cut Medicare than Obama and the Democrats.
  • Finally, polls show that Obama continues to benefit from support among younger voters – although not with the same intensity as four years ago.  Some  51 percent of voters ages 18 to 39 favor  Obama, while 38 percent favor Romney, according to the Post-ABC poll.  At the same time, 51 percent of voters 65 and older favor Romney compared to 43 percent who favor Obama.  Although Obama enjoys a sizable lead over Romney among younger voters, it is not nearly as large as his edge four years ago. A Gallup poll from 2008 shows the president had 67 percent of voters aged 18 to 29, compared with McCain’s 28 percent.
Washington Editor and D.C. Bureau Chief Eric Pianin is a veteran journalist who has covered the federal government, congressional budget and tax issues, and national politics. He spent over 25 years at The Washington Post.