Dead heat. This close. And with almost no voters saying they’re undecided.
That’s how things look in the presidential race, according to the most recent Akron Beacon Journal/Ohio Newspaper Organization poll.
President Barack Obama, 49 percent. Republican challenger Mitt Romney, ditto.
One remaining percent for “other,” and one more for “don’t know.” And all within the margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent.
This is a major change from a similar poll a month ago, when Obama held a 51-46 percent lead over Romney. The reason may be shifts in key parts of the electorate.
“Independents are now more evenly split between Obama and Romney than was the case in the first poll,” said Eric Rademacher, co-director of the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati, which conducted the poll for a consortium of major Ohio newspapers, including the Beacon Journal. They tilted slightly toward Obama, 46 to 44 percent, after leaning toward Romney 54-25 in the earlier poll. (Because of the small number of independents in the poll, the margin of error is plus or minus 10 percent.)
Independents, Rademacher added, “may hold the key to both Ohio and the presidency.”
In addition, “Romney and Obama ran close among men in the first poll, [but] Romney leads by 12 [percent] in the latest poll.”
The president maintains a double-digit lead among women.
And Obama increased his sizable edge among likely voters under 30 years old, his most successful age group. But leads he had among adults 30 to 45 and 46 to 64 evaporated. Romney is now ahead with both groups while increasing his lead among voters more than 65 years old.
The president retains the edge in Northeast and Central Ohio but has lost his lead in Northwest Ohio as well as continuing to trail in the southern part of the state.
Sixty-three percent of Obama supporters said they “strongly” favored him, while 60 percent of Romney supporters felt that way. Republicans as a group were more likely to say they were very enthusiastic about the election than Democrats were.
On the issues
On issues driving the election, Romney’s focus on economic issues appeared successful, as 51 percent of those surveyed said he would do the best job of handling the economy, versus 45 percent for Obama. Among independents, Romney led by 18 points.
Grace Huffman, 67, a retired nurse from Waterville, said she is backing Romney because “I am concerned about the economy and the debt. … I am concerned for my grandchildren. I just do not believe that President Obama has the skills to correct the economy and put in place what needs to be done.”
But Bruce Meyer, 46, a sales director and Akron resident, said he believes the president “inherited a mess” in the economy.
“I remember how bad things were roughly four years ago,” he said. “I think we’re on the right course, and to change course now would be a big mistake.”
The president was considered the superior on foreign policy, 50 to 46 percent, with independents favoring Obama over Romney by 15 points. The auto-industry bailout made 29 percent more likely to vote for Obama, and 21 percent less likely, but almost half those surveyed said it would not make a difference in their vote.
The candidate debates made 23 percent more likely to vote for Romney, and only 14 percent more likely to vote for Obama. But almost all the polling was done before the third debate between the presidential candidates. And 62 percent of poll respondents said the debates were not a factor.
As for Romney’s remarks that 47 percent are reliant on government and view themselves as victims, 54 percent of those surveyed said the comments will not affect their vote, while 32 percent said they were more likely to vote for Obama and 14 percent more likely to vote for Romney.
Narrow victory expected
All signs point to a tight election on Nov. 6.
“In the final days before the election, both campaigns will focus on turning out their bases, appealing to independents and attracting the few undecided voters who remain,” said Rademacher. “Absent any more twists and turns, a remarkable presidential campaign may end with the campaign that delivers the best ‘ground game’ narrowly delivering Ohio for the next president.”
Indeed, analysts point repeatedly to Ohio as not only a swing state but also the swing state in the election, as should be evident in the candidates’ many Buckeye drop-bys.
The earlier poll was conducted Sept. 13-18. The most recent poll was conducted between Oct. 18 and 23 among 1,015 likely voters by land-line and cellular phone. It was weighted to correct sampling biases from the sex of the respondent and the region of residence. It did not weight based on self-identified party affiliation. However, the September poll had proportionately more self-identified Democrats — 48 percent versus 42 percent Republican and 10 percent independent — than the October poll, 47 percent Democrat, 44 percent Republican and 10 percent independent. The customary range in elections is between a five-point Democratic advantage and a five-point Republican one.
Rich Heldenfels can be reached at 330-996-3582 or firstname.lastname@example.org.