Obama leads in three key swing states, but Romney can still sway voters

A new poll of likely voters in Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania shows President Obama winning all three states, on the basis of his strength among women voters. But given voter concerns about the economy, Mitt Romney can still catch him.

Jason DeCrow/AP
President Obama greets people on the tarmac after arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport, Monday, July 30, in New York.

Despite persistently high unemployment , President Obama is beating Republican candidate Mitt Romney in three key battleground states, Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania, according to a new Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News poll.

In Ohio, Mr. Obama beats Mr. Romney among likely voters 50 percent to 44 percent. In Florida, Obama is ahead 51 percent to 45 percent. Obama has a wider lead in Democratic-leaning Pennsylvania, 53 percent to 42 percent. Since 1960, no one has won the White House without winning at least two of these states. Four years ago, Obama won all three.

If history is any guide, Ohio’s result may be most significant: The Buckeye State has voted for the winner in every presidential race since 1964, the longest winning streak of any state. And no Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio. Obama launched his reelection campaign there; and he, Vice President Joe Biden, and first lady Michelle Obama are all frequent fliers to the state. On Wednesday, the president holds campaign events in Mansfield and Akron.

Obama’s personal appeal and empathy give him the edge in all three states, even as he struggles to convince voters that he would do a better job on the economy than Romney, a wealthy former businessman, the Times reports. The long-documented gender gap that favors Democrats is also evident.

“The president's strength among women is the dominant dynamic fueling his lead,” writes Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute in Hamden, Conn.

In Ohio, Obama leads among women 58 percent to 37 percent. In Florida, he leads among women 51 percent to 44 percent. And in Pennsylvania, his lead is 59 percent to 35 percent. But Romney’s strength among men mitigates Obama’s female advantage.

The poll also shows plenty of potential for Romney to sway voters to his side. In each state, by double-digit margins, voters say. Obama’s policies would hurt their personal financial situation if he were to stay in office. And in all three states, slightly higher percentages of Obama supporters than Romney supporters say they might change their minds about their votes.

Mr. Brown, the Quinnipiac pollster, notes that Obama is running better in the three swing states than he is nationally, and suggests that part of the reason may be the unemployment trends. Both Ohio (7.2 percent unemployment in June) and Pennsylvania (7.5 percent) are below the national rate of 8.2 percent. Florida remains higher, at 8.6 percent, but unemployment there has been declining over the past year.

“All this matters because half of all likely voters say the economy is the most important issue to their vote, far ahead of any other issue,” Brown writes. “The saving grace for Gov. Mitt Romney is that he roughly breaks even with the president on who is best on the economy.”

Quinnipiac University, in cooperation with CBS and The Times, surveyed 1,177 likely voters in Florida, 1,193 likely voters in Ohio, and 1,168 likely voters in Pennsylvania, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent. The poll was conducted July 24-30.

The poll’s results cannot be compared with previous months' data, since the poll is the first of this campaign cycle that surveyed likely voters.

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