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Obama Surges, But Without Independent Voters in Swing States

by Wes Messamore, published
Photo: Gage Skidmore

Mainstream media buzzed Wednesday morning with news of the latest Quinnipiac poll results in the key swing states of Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. The newest polls find President Obama surging in these states, which have a combined electoral vote total that will make it difficult for either Obama or Mitt Romney to win the election without winning at least two of the three. No presidential candidate has won without taking at least two since 1960.

The Quinnipiac poll showed the president over the 50 percent mark in all three states and leading Romney by 9 points in Florida (Obama 53 - Romney 44), 10 points in Ohio (Obama 53 - Romney 43), and 12 points in Pennsylvania (Obama 54 - Romney 42).

Quinnipiac reports:

"Voters in each state see President Obama as better than Gov. Romney to handle the economy, health care, Medicare, national security, an international crisis and immigration. Romney ties or inches ahead of the president on handling the budget deficit."

As Business Insider notes, "Obama's lead is propelled by his support among female voters." Obama leads Romney by 19 points with female voters in Florida; in Pennsylvania, Obama is favored over Romney by 21 points among female voters; and in Ohio, Obama enjoys a 25 point lead over Romney among women in the Buckeye State.

The poll's methodology, particularly how it weights party preference among Democrats, Republicans, and independent voters for the November election, is not without scrutiny.

At The Hill's GOP 12 blog, Christian Heinze points out that, "these surveys really assume a remarkably big Democratic turnout advantage -- like, way bigger even than in 2008."

Heinze offers Florida as an example:

FLORIDA: Obama 53% Romney 44% This sample is 36% Democratic, 33% Independent, and 27% Republican. In 2008, actual turnout numbers in Florida were 37% Democratic, 34% Republican, and 29% Independent. In other words, this survey suggests Republican turnout will be 7% lower this year than it was in 2008. Does anyone believe that? Based on organization alone, that seems unlikely. Romney is far more organized than McCain was in the state, Obama is less popular than in 2008, and the GOP more enthusiastic. That doesn't seem like a formula for turnout that's 7% lower.

Potentially under-weighted in this and other surveys, is the effect of independent voters in swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida. A critical part of then-Senator Obama's successful 2008 strategy was winning over and turning out independent voters in swing states.

As Fox News noted Friday:

"In 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama won Florida's presidential election by winning over the state's independent voters. Exit polls show 52 percent of them voted for Obama."

As of this Friday report, the latest Quinnipiac numbers revealed, "just 33 percent of Florida's independent voters approve of the job the president is doing," while, "A whopping 61 percent disapprove of his performance." Though Wednesday morning's Quinnipiac poll showed Obama surging in Florida overall, with a 9-point lead over Romney and the support of 53% of Florida voters, its breakdown also revealed that independent voters in Florida tilt toward Romney by a small margin of 3 percent (Romney 49 - Obama 46).

In July, Peter Bergerson, a political-science professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, told the Naples Daily News, a southwestern Florida newspaper, that independent voters are, "probably the key to who wins the election, not only in Florida but in 10 to 15 other states."

In Ohio, where Obama enjoys a 10 point lead (Obama 53 - Romney 43) among voters in the Quinnipiac poll, independent voters tilt Romney by 1 point in a near tie, with 47 percent favoring Romney and 46 percent supporting Obama.

In Pennsylvania, where Obama enjoys his greatest lead out of the three key swing states, with a 12 point difference of 54 percent favoring Obama and 42 percent supporting Romney, independent voters are still split evenly between the two candidates, with 48 percent favoring each.

These results are especially remarkable considering that many analysts expected that the secretly-taped video of Mitt Romney's private remarks about "the 47%" would significantly hurt his prospects among independent voters in swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida.

That the remarks and subsequent media fallout appear not to have damaged Romney among independent voters, is a silver lining on this morning's Quinnipiac poll for the Romney campaign, and may indicate that independent voters in swing states with struggling economies are more focused on the present state of the economy and may consider this election more of a referendum on President Obama's job performance in general, than a contest between the president and the former governor.

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