WASHINGTON — Barack Obama has opened a significant lead over Mitt Romney in a Bloomberg National Poll that reflects the presumed Republican nominee’s weaknesses more than the president’s strengths.
Obama leads Romney 53 percent to 40 percent among likely voters, even as the public gives him low marks on handling the economy and the deficit, and six in 10 say the nation is headed down the wrong track, according to the poll conducted June 15- 18.
The survey shows Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, has yet to repair the damage done to his image during the Republican primary. Thirty-nine percent of Americans view him favorably, about the same as when he announced his presidential candidacy last June, while 48 percent see him unfavorably — a 17-percentage point jump during a nomination fight dominated by attacks ads. A majority of likely voters, 55 percent, view him as more out of touch with average Americans compared with 36 percent who say the president is more out of touch.
Taken together, the results suggest an unsettled political environment for both Obama and Romney five months from the November election, with voters choosing for now to stick with a president they say is flawed rather than backing a challenger they regard as undefined and disconnected.
“You can see in these data how important turnout will be,” says J. Ann Selzer of Des Moines, Iowa-based Selzer & Co. who directed the poll. “Those most enthusiastic about the election are more supportive of Romney, but Obama’s voters are more locked into their candidate than Romney’s. Building resolve to vote and making the vote stick is job one, and both candidates face obstacles toward getting that done.”
The presidential race is roughly tied among the most enthusiastic voters, 49 percent of whom back Romney compared with 48 percent for Obama. Still, Romney inspires far less enthusiasm even among his supporters than does Obama, with 35 percent of Romney backers saying their support for him is “very strong,” compared with 51 percent of Obama backers who say so.
“I would rather choose to vote for someone else, but there’s no one but Obama,” says John Sunde, a 57-year-old Verizon central office technician from Brentwood, N.Y., when asked which candidate would get his vote. “He hasn’t fulfilled a lot of his campaign promises, but I would vote for him anyway because Romney would be extremely destructive for this country.”
Sunde, an independent, gives Obama low grades for dealing with the economy yet says Romney would do worse. “His perspective is you just let the free market take care of everything, and we’ll go right down the toilet drain, and everything — all the jobs — will go straight to Asia,” Sunde says of Romney.
The poll of 1,002 adults has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points for the full sample. Questions asked of the 734 likely voters have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points. Its findings are at odds with other recent national surveys that have found the two candidates tied or shown a slight advantage for Obama or Romney.
Thirty-eight percent of those surveyed in Bloomberg’s poll say they consider themselves Democrats or independents who lean that way and 33 percent consider themselves Republicans or independents who lean Republican, a 5-point Democratic advantage. In 2008, the presidential election exit polls showed the Democrats with a 7-point advantage.
The Democratic advantage in the Washington Post’s May poll sample was 10 points, while the one in the New York Times’ April survey was 8 points and the Wall Street Journal’s May poll was 7 points.
In the Bloomberg Poll, 53 percent of those surveyed were women and 67 percent were white, in line with other national polls. Obama fares better among white voters than he does in other surveys, drawing support from 43 percent compared with 50 percent backing Romney.
Beyond Romney’s low favorability ratings, the poll reflects perceived weaknesses for the Republican challenger both in style and substance. Only 31 percent of likely voters say they’d want to sit next to Romney on a long airplane flight, compared with 57 percent who prefer Obama as a seat mate.
About a third of likely voters rate Romney best at understanding their problems and struggles, and dealing with world leaders, while Obama draws majorities on both. And just 34 percent of respondents prefer Romney to Obama in appearing regularly on their TV and computer screens for the next four years; the president is the pick of 54 percent. Obama’s favorability ratings are the reverse of Romney’s, with 55 percent of Americans viewing the president positively, while 42 percent don’t.
In a bad sign for Obama, a much smaller plurality, 48 percent, of likely voters say he would be best at getting the economy going, while 43 percent say Romney would do better.
Fifty-three percent of Americans approve of the job Obama is doing in the White House — the first time since March 2011 that he has broken the historic 50 percent threshold for presidents who have won re-election; 44 percent disapprove of his service.
His performance rating on creating jobs — 46 percent approve, while 48 percent disapprove — matches its high mark in July 2010, and has risen 10 points from his low point in September 2011. A plurality of 45 percent of Americans identify jobs and unemployment as the “most important issue” facing the country.
More troubling for Obama’s re-election bid, just 31 percent say the nation is headed in the right direction compared with 62 percent who say it’s on the wrong track.
On the economy, just 43 percent approve of Obama’s performance, compared with 53 who disapprove. He fares even more poorly on the budget deficit, where 60 percent disapprove of the job he’s doing compared with 32 percent who approve.
“Obama is the lesser of two evils,” says Rosean Smith, 38, an independent voter from Columbus, Ohio, who says Obama faced unrealistic expectations on the economy. “He was basically handed a sick drug baby and expected to make a genius out of it overnight.”
Smith, a graduate student and mother of six who says she has applied for 80 jobs in the last eight months and landed none, says while Obama is “way in over his head” on the economy, she doesn’t trust Romney to do better.
The poll also undercuts Romney’s central argument for his candidacy, suggesting that his background as a private-equity executive isn’t seen by voters as his greatest strength. Asked to name the most important qualification on Romney’s resume, a plurality of 41 percent cite his experience as governor of Massachusetts, while 34 percent say it’s his business experience at the Boston-based firm Bain Capital.
Jeff Angleton, a 40-year-old construction business owner in Huxton, Colo., who is backing Romney, says he has had to fire 27 of the 52 people who work at his company because of lack of projects. Angleton, an independent, says he is “scared” of what the future holds if Obama stays in office, though not confident that things will get better if Romney takes the White House.
“I think the guy is a little bit out of touch, because he has too much money to understand what a guy like me deals with,” Angleton says of Romney.
Likely voters are split over whether Romney’s business experience made him better-prepared to create jobs as president, with 49 percent saying it doesn’t and 45 percent saying it does.
They are also divided on whether it’s a good idea to elect a corporate chief executive officer as president, with 44 saying it is while 40 percent say it’s not.
Asked how they plan to vote for Congress, 48 percent of likely voters say they’d choose a Democrat compared with 41 percent who would back a Republican. The Democratic Party also scores better than its counterpart, with 50 percent of Americans viewing it favorably while 43 percent don’t. The Republican Party’s favorability rating drops 3 percentage points from Bloomberg’s March poll to 41 percent, while its unfavorability stands at 50 percent.
The public also has a much rosier view of the last Democratic president than it does the last Republican. Former President Bill Clinton is viewed favorably by 69 percent and unfavorably by 25 percent, while former President George W. Bush is seen favorably by 44 percent compared with 51 percent who view him negatively.
Donald Trump, who stood beside Romney at a Las Vegas fundraiser last month and says he’s still skeptical about the authenticity of Obama’s birth certificate, is seen favorably by 33 percent. Fifty-five percent have an unfavorable view of the real estate magnate and reality TV star who flirted with his own presidential run before backing the presumptive Republican nominee.