Why Romney is losing

A new set of battleground polls shows that the month of September has been especially brutal for the GOP nominee

Published September 26, 2012 1:15PM (EDT)

A new set of polls conducted by Quinnipiac for the New York Times and CBS News paint a grim picture for Mitt Romney, who faces daunting gaps in three big states.

The surveys put Barack Obama ahead by 10 points in Ohio (53-43 percent), 9 in Florida (53-44) and 12 in Pennsylvania (54-42). We can apply all sorts of disclaimers here about how any or all of the polls could be outliers, how Pennsylvania probably isn’t a swing state, or how focusing on individual state polls may not be the best way to understand the flow of the national race. But taken together, they represent the latest piece of evidence that Obama is the clear leader and offer some insight into how he’s built and maintained his advantage.

For instance, the poll finds the president opening a gigantic 25-point edge among women in Ohio, 60 to 35 percent. With men, Romney actually leads by 8. In Florida, Romney is up 3 with men but down 19 with women. (We’ll leave Pennsylvania out of this analysis, since it’s now widely assumed to be an Obama state – although it should be noted that the Romney campaign made plenty of noise earlier in the race about winning it.)

These are some of the most dramatic illustrations we’ve seen yet of the gender gap that Obama and his party have been trying to exploit all year. It also meshes with a national study that found that among those who said earlier this year that they planned to vote for Romney, women are twice as likely as men to have defected to Obama’s camp.

Obama also enjoys a critical advantage on the top issue in the campaign, the economy. By a 51-45 percent margin in Ohio, voters believe Obama is better equipped to handle it than Romney. In Florida, the spread is 51-46 percent. And clear majorities of voters in both states – 56 percent in Florida and 58 percent in Ohio – say that the economy is either improving now because of Obama’s policies or will improve because of them.

Findings like these undercut the basic premise of Romney’s campaign, that economic anxiety will be enough to prompt swing voters to give up on Obama and use Romney as a vehicle for their protests. For this strategy to have any chance of working, a majority of voters must conclude that Obama’s policies have failed or are failing, and that Romney (or, really, any president not named Obama) would do a better job managing the economy. But this isn’t happening. As Greg Sargent has been documenting, national polling on economic questions has actually swung in Obama’s favor since the Democratic convention, and now we see the same thing happening in these battleground states.

Romney is also dogged by serious image problems. In both Florida and Ohio, just 41 percent of voters have a favorable view of him, while Obama’s score is well over 50 percent in both states. And only 41 percent of voters in Florida and 38 percent in Ohio say that Romney cares about people like them. This reflects the failure of Romney over the summer months and at his convention to repair the battered image with which he emerged from the GOP primaries. It also adds context to a study released earlier this week that shows Romney struggling with white working-class voters outside of the South.

The Real Clear Politics average of national polls gives Obama a lead of just under 4 percent right now, with early voting open in about two dozen states. It goes without saying that Romney could still win the election, but the conclusion Jamelle Bouie reached on Monday seems fair: He’s a long shot.

By Steve Kornacki

Steve Kornacki is an MSNBC host and political correspondent. Previously, he hosted “Up with Steve Kornacki” on Saturday and Sunday 8-10 a.m. ET and was a co-host on MSNBC’s ensemble show “The Cycle.” He has written for the New York Observer, covered Congress for Roll Call, and was the politics editor for Salon. His book, which focuses on the political history of the 1990s, is due out in 2017.

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