President Obama leads Republican Mitt Romney by 8 points nationally — 51 to 43 percent among likely voters — as the race heads into the final stretch, according to a new Pew Research Center poll released Wednesday.
Obama's advantage, particularly among women, blacks and voters younger than 30, puts him "in a strong position compared with past victorious presidential candidates," Pew reported.
Obama's lead at this point in the race, Pew President Andrew Kohut told NPR's Robert Siegel, is "stronger than the last three winning presidential candidates." Only Bill Clinton, running in both 1992 and 1996, had bigger leads in mid-September.
Clinton's edge over incumbent President George H.W. Bush at this stage in 1992 was 53 to 38 percent; he led Republican Sen. Bob Dole 50 to 48 percent at this stage in 1996. Obama was tied with Republican Sen. John McCain at this point in 2008.
Pew's survey of 2,424 registered voters, completed before this week's flap over Romney's videotaped "47 percent" comments, showed voters about evenly divided on which candidate they prefer on the issues of jobs and the deficit.
The survey found, however, that Obama leads Romney on most key issues, including, and "notably," Kohut says, "health care, Medicare and abortion."
Pew also found that Obama's support is stronger and more positive than Romney's.
One of their findings: "Roughly half of Romney backers say they are voting against Obama rather than for the Republican nominee. With the exception of Bill Clinton in 1992, candidates lacking mostly positive backing have lost in November."
Obama led Romney by a 3-to-1 margin on Pew's question of which candidate connects well with voters. Romney also trailed Obama 50 to 40 percent when likely voters were asked who shares their values.
Kohut says Obama's big edge in those categories is more due to Romney's ongoing difficulty connecting with voters than anything in particular Obama has done.
"His sense of connecting with ordinary people is not very good," Kohut said, noting that Romney's low credibility numbers drove down his net personable favorability rating to below 50 percent.
"No previous presidential candidate," Kohut wrote in his analysis, "has been viewed so unfavorably at this point in a presidential campaign in Pew Research or Gallup September surveys going back to 1988."
Obama also enjoyed strong support in the realm of foreign policy and, specifically, Middle East policy, where those surveyed preferred him over Romney by about 15 percentage points. Pew found that by a margin of 2-to-1, those surveyed disapproved of Romney's comments criticizing the administration during the recent crisis in Libya that left four Americans, including a U.S. ambassador, dead.
Obama's strength with female voters was reflected in the Pew survey, where they gave him a 19-point advantage over Romney. Men were closely divided. Romney's strongest support came from white Evangelical Protestants.
The Pew survey, Kohut says, was taken a week after the end of the Democratic National Convention and so "doesn't reflect the immediate emotion" of the convention.
A flurry of presidential polls released in the past 24 hours have, with the exception of one, given Obama national leads ranging from 1 to 5 percentage points. The Rasmussen tracking poll has Romney up by 1.
"There's a lot of change going on right now," Kohut told Siegel. "But you can say that the overall drift of the polling is for Obama."
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