Transcript: Face to Face with Peter Brown

Bill Plante: Welcome to Face to Face. I'm Bill Plante and our guest today is Peter Brown, the assistant director of the Quinnipiac poll. We've got a new battleground poll out and it's on the key states of Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida. What's the key finding here? What's your surprise?

Peter Brown: Quinnipiac found was that it seems like the pick of Paul Ryan has had some small beneficial effect for Mitt Romney, at least in Florida and in Wisconsin. It's actually had no effect in Ohio. In Ohio, President Obama has the same six point lead he had when Quinnipiac polled, along with CBS and the New York Times, earlier this month before the Ryan pick. In Florida the margin's been cut in half from an Obama six-point lead to an Obama three-point lead. And in Wisconsin, the six-point lead that the president enjoyed is now down to two points. So there seems to be some small effect, based on Mr. Ryan's appointment.

Bill Plante: Well taking that number would give the president a lead that's not within the margin of error, right?

Peter Brown: Right. In Florida and Wisconsin it's now in the too-close-to-call category. Ohio remains narrowly in the president's column.

Bill Plante: Is that a surprise that Wisconsin and Florida have drifted away from the President?

Peter Brown: Well Wisconsin obviously is Paul Ryan's home state. Among the questions that we asked in the survey is we asked voters in the entire state of Wisconsin about Ryan's job performance and they were quite positive. So obviously it's had some home-team effect, essentially. In Florida, Florida is traditionally one of the more conservative of the swing states. Historically it is a little bit more Republican than the country overall. It is, for instance, Ohio tends to be much closer down the middle. Florida tends to be a scotch little more Republican perhaps than some other swing states. So Mr. Romney is doing better there. It's not a huge surprise. It's very, very tight. Mr. Obama's still ahead, but it's clearly within the margin of error there, as it is in Wisconsin.

Bill Plante: Remember that a lot of the instant-pundit reaction when Ryan was picked was that in Florida that could be bad because he could be perceived to be cutting or jettisoning traditional Medicare, and that wouldn't play well there.

Peter Brown: Well the Quinnipiac/Times/CBS poll found was that in fact voters are very supportive of Medicare. They're very hesitant about wanting to cut it. But that doesn't necessarily seem to be translating into their view of Ryan, at least at this stage. Interestingly, voters like Paul Ryan better than they like Joe Biden. When you ask voters whether they have a favorable/unfavorable opinion, Ryan scores better. Then when we ask voters who do you think is qualified to be president - we ask it both about Ryan and Biden. Mr. Biden gets a slightly higher positive score than Mr. Ryan, but Mr. Ryan's ratio, because he is so much less well-known than Mr. Biden, of people think he's qualified/unqualified, across the board, in all these states is better than the vice president's. And that's interesting.

Bill Plante: Your next round of battleground polls will be Virginia, Pennsylvania, Colorado, right?

Peter Brown: Not clear, yeah we don't -

Bill Plante: But in those states, or other battleground states, do you think that the Ryan effect is likely to continue?

Peter Brown: It's hard to know. Obviously Mr. Ryan has been the center of the glare of public opinion for the last week or so. And it's unlikely that will continue to that extent. Remember when he gets picked he's introduced and then there's this giant effort to define him. Obviously the White House wants to define him negatively, the Romney camp wants to define him positively, voters are trying to figure out what they think about him. The initial word on Mr. Ryan is that it's a positive review from voters. Not overwhelmingly, but positive. And as time goes on, more voters will come down on Mr. Ryan's ability to be President. Again, his ratio of those who think he's qualified to be president, compared to those who don't, is better than Joe Biden's. But there's a large swath of voters who just don't have an opinion yet. And how they view that will determine a lot about this election.

Bill Plante: As we speak the controversy over Rep. Akin over the past few days has brought the social issues, abortion particularly, back into the conversation. Something that the national Republicans really didn't want. Do you think this is likely to have an effect going forward?

Peter Brown: Whether it's because of social issues or other issues, the president's greatest strength is single women. By two-to-one they support the president, so anything that raises issues that keep that very strong base intact for the president is probably good for the president. On the other hand, it's hard to imagine that the coverage of Congressman Akin and whether he stays in the race or gets out is going to make a difference in Florida, or Colorado or states like that down the road. It's a tempest in a teapot, currently, and depending on how it's dealt with it may have some legs. But it's hard to see it as a way of really moving voters.

Bill Plante: One of the things that we've noticed particularly in this cycle is that the number of undecided voters is really tiny. And is that unusual?

Peter Brown: It's a little bit unusual. This is a very polarized country politically - no great secret of that. The vast, vast majority of voters know what they think about President Obama. They either like him or they don't. There's not a lot of middle ground. And so people have pretty much chosen sides. Now when we ask voters, both Romney voters and Obama voters, how sure they are they're going to vote for the man they said they support, roughly 90 percent say there's no chance they'd change their mind. Now history says that may or may not be true. But clearly this is an election about the incumbent. Most in which there's an incumbent running for reelection are, but this more so. President Obama is a very big figure in American politics. Voters either like him or they don't like him. And they strongly like him and strongly dislike him. So it is hard to find that many voters who don't have an opinion about the President.

Bill Plante: Well then, does this mean that the election turns on just a handful of voters in a few key states?

Peter Brown: Well it always turns on a few key states. Handful? It's hard to imagine for instance that this election will come down to 500 voters in a state like it did in 2000 in Florida. I mean that's just a statistical aberration. But clearly this is going to be a close race. Historically incumbents have much going for them. We have over the last generation seen a number of incumbents with good numbers get reelected easily like Ronald Reagan in 1984 and Bill Clinton in 1996. But George Bush was reelected in 2004 with very middling numbers. His job approval was in the mid-forties, not far from where President Obama is. And that was a close election. It did come down to one state, it came down to Ohio. Will this come down to just one state? Perhaps. But whether it comes down to one state or a few states, it will be a very close election.

Bill Plante: And on that note Peter Brown we thank you, You're the assistant director of the Quinnipiac poll. I'm Bill Plante, this has been Face to Face. See you next time.

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