After the Republican primary's many debates and many gaffes, Mitt Romney is a weaker candidate against President Obama. Obama is ahead in three important swing states, and way more personally popular. While Romney was a ahead of the president in the fall, Obama's lead widened in recent weeks. Here's our guide to today's polls and why they matter.
Findings: Obama is ahead of Romney in three big swing states: Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania. The president leads his likely Republican challenger 47 percent to 41 percent in Ohio, 49 percent to 42 percent in Florida, and 45 percent to 42 percent in Pennsylvania.
Methodology: Survey between March 20 and March 26 of 1,228 Florida voters, 1,246 Ohio voters, and 1,232 Pennsylvania voters.
Why it matters: The crazy math of the electoral college means that If the election were held today, and these states voted according to this poll, President Obama would win. Obama's 7 percentage point margin in Ohio is particularly interesting, because Karl Rove has pointed to the Midwest as one place where Obama's extra weak. Perhaps millions of dollars in ads from Rove's Crossroads groups have yet to take effect. Another interesting tidbit: the poll finds women's reproductive health issues being important to between 48 percent and 52 percent of these swing state voters. Obama enjoys a significant advantage among women in all three states.
Caveat: Romney has a lot of time to make up the difference by November.
Findings: Romney is 19 percentage points less popular than Obama. (Junior high would be so much more horrible if pollsters tested public opinion there.) The poll finds 53 percent have a favorable view of Obama and 43 percent have an unfavorable view; while 34 percent have a favorable view of Romney, and 50 percent have an unfavorable view.
Pollster: ABC News/ The Washington Post
Methodology: Survey of 1,016 Americans from March 21 to March 25.
Why it matters: Romney is liked less than any top presidential candidate since 1984, the pollster says. If you want people to vote your you, some of them need to like you. On the other hand, job approval ratings are more commonly used to predict a president's reelection chances, and Obama's job approval ratings are lower. Bill Clinton faced this same dynamic in his first term and was reelected, National Journal's Reid Epstein noted last fall. But in George W. Bush's second term, his low approval rating dragged his favoribility rating down.
Caveat: Romney has played on this from time to time, calling Obama a nice guy who's in over his head.
Findings: The economy is the most important issue to AMericans, with 71 percent saying it matters a great deal. But tied for third place, behind other economic issues, is the "availability and affordability of healthcare." Sixty percent of Americans say that matters a great deal, and 21 percent say it matters a fair amount.
Methodology: Survey of 1,024 Americans from March 8 to March 11.
Why it matters: The Supreme Court is has been hearing oral arguments over the constitutionality of Obamacare all week. On Tuesday, the Obama administration's defense of the individual mandate that everyone get insurance -- a central part of the plan -- didn't go so well. Liberals are despairing. Here is a bit of desperate spin from James Carville, who insists it's not spin. "I honestly believe -- this is not spin. I think that this will be the best thing to ever happen to the Democratic Party because health care costs will escalate unbelievably," Carville said on CNN Tuesday night, Politico's Mike Allen points out. "[T]he Republican Party will own the health care system for the foreseeable future. And I really believe that, that is not spin. Go see Scalia when you want health care." This poll offers another peg for that angle.
Caveat: The poll seems to show Americans are concerned about everything. The ninth-ranking concern is "hunger and homelessness," and 76 percent say it matters either a great deal or a fair amount. And 64 percent say that about "drug use." Oddly, illegal immigration, a key topic in the Republican debates this year, ranks second to last of the 15 issues listed.