The first USA TODAY/Gallup Swing States Poll since theGOPÂ settled on a presumptive nominee shows big challenges for each side:Â Mitt RomneyÂ in generating enthusiasm and a personal connection with his supporters, andÂ Barack ObamaÂ in convincing Americans he should be trusted to manage a fragile economy.
The president and the former Massachusetts governor start their head-to-head contest essentially even among registered voters â€” Obama 47%, Romney 45% â€” in the dozen battleground states likely to determine the election’s outcome. That’s closer than the lead of 9 percentage points for Obama in the Swing States survey in late March.
But the poll also finds a reversal in what has been a key GOP asset in the five previous battleground surveys taken since last fall: an edge in enthusiasm among voters. For the first time, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say they are extremely or very enthusiastic about voting â€” a shift from a 14-percentage-point GOP advantage at the end of last year to an 11-point deficit now.
That drop is driven by Republicans who describe themselves as moderate or liberal, about a third of the party, even though the candidate widely viewed as the most moderate in the GOP primary field is poised to be nominated. Just 7% of moderate and liberal Republicans now say they are extremely enthusiastic, down from 24% in January and compared with 34% of conservative Republicans who feel that way.
“After a long and completely negative Republican primary on the other side, there are not a lot of people enthusiastic about Gov. Romney,” Obama campaign managerÂ Jim MessinaÂ said in an interview. “The polls are finally catching up to what we’re seeing for a long time â€” a fired-up Democratic base.”
Romney pollster Neil Newhouse dismisses the idea that enthusiasm will be a problem. “We’re confident that on Election Day Republicans are not only going to be solidly, overwhelmingly behind Mitt Romney but will be voting for him with enthusiasm over Barack Obama,” he says.
The president faces a more serious issue, Newhouse says: Lagging ratings on managing the economy, the issue both campaigns predict will dominate the campaign.
Among those surveyed, 60% say a President Romney would do a good or very good job handling the economy over the next four years; 52% say that of Obama. Even among the president’s supporters, four in 10 predict Romney would do a good job. In a direct comparison, Romney edges Obama, 47%-44%, as the one who would do a better job.
“You’ve got a candidate who has just been through the bruising Republican primary and came out somewhat bloodied, so it’s pretty remarkable that in these target states Gov. Romney is doing better than Obama on the biggest issue, the economy,” Newhouse said. “It’s hard to read it any differently than a public indictment of the president’s economic policy.”
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