By Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Anthony Salvanto, Fred Backus and Brian Montopoli
President Obama has maintained a five-point lead in the crucial swing state of Ohio, according to a new Quinnipiac University/CBS News/New York Times poll of likely voters. The survey found that Mitt Romney has gained ground in Florida and Virginia, where the race is now effectively tied.
Mr. Obama now leads Romney 50 percent to 45 percent among likely voters in Ohio - exactly where the race stood on Oct. 22. His lead in Florida, however, has shrunk from nine points in September to just one point in the new survey, which shows Mr. Obama with 48 percent support and Romney with 47 percent. The president's lead in Virginia has shrunk from five points in early October to two points in the new survey, which shows him with a 49 percent to 47 percent advantage.
The margin of error in the poll is plus or minus three percentage points. The survey was taken from Oct. 23 to 28 and completed before the onset of the "superstorm" Sandy.
Romney has taken the lead among seniors in Florida in the new survey and increased his lead among white voters, and he has a significant advantage among independents in Virginia. In Florida and Ohio, the candidates are now running about even on handling the economy. In Virginia, Romney has an edge.
In Florida and Ohio, the president leads among those who have already cast their ballots, with a significant lead in Ohio, 60 to 34 percent. In Florida, Mr. Obama is up 50 to 44 percent. Among those who have yet to cast their vote, the two candidates are even in these states. Just a small percentage of voters in Virginia have already voted.
There are few voters left in these swing states who haven't made up their minds. Now, at least 95 percent of likely voters - including both Obama and Romney voters - have decided who they will support.
Most supporters from both camps say they strongly favor their candidate, though Mr. Obama's are slightly more likely to say they strongly favor him. But Romney has been improving on this measure - especially in Florida, from 57 percent a month ago to 74 percent today - nearly even with the president.
As they have throughout the fall, in all three states Republicans remain more enthusiastic about voting this year than Democrats. Florida Republicans in particular have become far more enthusiastic than Democrats over the past month. There is now a 16-point enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats in Florida, 63 percent to 47 percent, up from four points a month ago (52 to 48 percent).
The Race in Florida
President Obama continues to enjoy a double-digit lead among women, 53 to 43 percent, but that lead has been almost cut in half since last month. Romney has increased his advantage with men from three points last month to nine points now, 52 to 43 percent.
The president has the support of younger voters in this poll, 55 to 41 percent, while Romney leads with seniors, 53 to 42 percent. A month ago, the President had an edge with seniors.
Romney has expanded his lead with white voters and now leads the president by 22 points among this group, 59 to 37 percent. Four years ago, Mr. Obama received 42 percent of the white vote in Florida. In this poll, he is getting 37 percent.
The Race in Ohio
The race in Ohio remains largely unchanged from a week ago, with the president maintaining a significant lead with women (56 to 39 percent), while Romney is ahead by six points among men, 50 to 44 percent.
Seniors are backing Romney by 9 points, 52 to 43 percent, while Mr. Obama leads among younger voters, particularly those under 35, 58 to 36 percent. Romney leads among independents (49 to 43 percent) and whites (50 to 45 percent).
The Race in Virginia
In Virginia, the gender gap has narrowed slightly but it is still significant: President Obama holds a 10-point lead among women, 53 to 43 percent, while Romney holds a 9-point lead among men, 52 to 43 percent.
Virginia voters under 35 continue to favor the president, 54 to 41 percent, while Romney has made gains among voters between 35 and 64 - cutting down an eight-point Obama lead to three points among this age group, 50 to 47 percent. Virginia voters 65 and older support Romney by 13 points, 55 to 42 percent.
Among independents in Virginia, Romney has surged from a two-point deficit two weeks ago to a 21-point lead today, 57 to 36 percent. He has also increased his lead slightly among voters in military households.
Romney maintains a strong 22-point lead among white voters, 59 to 37 percent, while 93 percent of black voters are supporting Mr. Obama.
The economy remains the most important issue to voters in all three states, and voters in Florida and Ohio are closely divided as to which candidate would do a better job handling it. In Virginia, where the candidates were neck-and-neck two weeks ago, Mitt Romney now has a four-point lead, 50 to 46 percent.
Voters in all three states are more optimistic now about both the national and state economies than they were in the summer. Four in 10 voters in Florida, Ohio, and Virginia now think the national economy is getting better. Back in August, just a quarter thought so.
A similar trend can be seen when these voters assess their own state's economy, particularly in Ohio. Back in August just 33 percent said that the economy in Ohio was getting better; now that has risen to 52 percent.
Voters who think the economy is improving in their state do give credit to the Obama administration. 7 in 10 think his administration deserves at least some of the credit, including at least four in 10 who say it deserves a lot of the credit.
At the same time, among those who think their state economy is getting worse, majorities think the Obama administration deserves at least some of the blame.
On other specific issues, President Obama has the advantage. More voters in all three states see him as better able to handle health care, Medicare, education and social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage, foreign policy and terrorism.
In all three states, voters also pick President Obama to do a better job helping the middle class. But when it comes to who would do a better job working with members of both parties, Florida and Virginia voters pick Mitt Romney. In Ohio, voters are divided
Views of the Candidates
As he has throughout the campaign, Barack Obama wins on empathy. Six in 10 voters in all three states think Mr. Obama cares about their needs and problems. Voters in Florida and Virginia are divided over whether Mitt Romney does, and most voters (52 percent) in Ohio think he does not.
On the specific issue of understanding the needs and problems of women in the workforce, about two in three voters in each state say Barack Obama understands, while about half of voters say Mitt Romney does not.
Barack Obama leads on another measure as well: honesty. Most voters in all three states think Barack Obama is honest and trustworthy, while voters are less sure of Mitt Romney.
But Mitt Romney is ahead on leadership. Although most voters think both candidates have strong qualities of leadership, more think so of Mitt Romney.
Neither candidate, however, is seen as having clearly explained their specific plans for the next four years. Most voters in all three states don't think either candidate has done so, though President Obama does slightly better than Mitt Romney.
Overall, more voters continue to view Barack Obama favorably than view him unfavorably. Views of Mitt Romney are mixed, though they have improved over the past month in Florida, from 41 percent favorable to 48 percent.
Voters are divided in these states over the President's job performance. About as many approve as disapprove of the job he's doing as president.
The 2012 Senate Races
The Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate in Florida (Sen. Bill Nelson) and Ohio (Sen. Sherrod Brown) retain their leads over their challengers (Nelson leads 52 to 39 percent over Rep. Connie Mack; Brown leads 51 to 42 over state treasurer Josh Mandel). The race is closest in Virginia where Democrat Tim Kaine has a slim four-point lead (50 to 46 percent) over Republican George Allen.
For full poll results, see next page
This poll was conducted by telephone from Quinnipiac University's interviewing facility October 23--28, 2012. The number of likely voters interviewed in each state is 1,073 in Florida, 1,110 in Ohio and 1,074 in Virginia. In all three states, phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the sample in each state could be plus or minus three percentage points in Florida, Ohio, and in Virginia. The error for subgroups may be higher. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.