Barring an unforeseen event of major proportions, Pennsylvania appears likely to back President Barack Obama on Nov. 6, according to an analysis of recent polls, which show the president with a widening margin of support at the local and state levels, echoes of a national trend.
“We are in that period where the race seems to settle,” said G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College.
Unusually, Obama’s increasing margin among likely voters is, in many cases, the result of growing disapproval of his opponent Mitt Romney.
Real Clear Politics, which aggregates a number of prominent national polls, gave Obama a three-point lead, nationally. On Monday, Gallup gave Obama a three-point lead. Last week, a CBS/New York Times poll also gave Obama a three-point lead and an Esquire/Yahoo News poll gave the president a five-point lead. That represents a small, but politically significant, shift in voter sentiment, which had both men running neck-and-neck in most national polls as little as two weeks ago.
In the most recent local poll, Obama’s lead in Pennsylvania is widening, according to figures released this weekend by Philadelphia Inquirer.
The poll showed Obama with 50 percent of voters saying they’d vote for him, compared to 39 percent who said they’d choose Rommey. That represented a 1 point drop in the number of voters backing Obama from August when 51 percent of voters said they’d vote for Obama.
But, for Romney, the news was even worse.
In August, 42 percent of Pennsylvania voters said they’d vote for him.
The president enjoys growing support in Philadelphia and the five surrounding counties — where the number of voters who said they’d choose him rose from 59 percent to 61 percent in the Inquirer’s poll.
Romney’s numbers fell — going from 34 percent in August to 32 percent in most figures.
Those trends mirror national trends.
The shifting numbers represent a bounce in public perception after the recent Democratic convention, said pollsters, a typical feature of election year conventions that held this year for Democrats, but not for Republicans.
“Obama did get a modest bounce out of the Democratic convention,” said Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of Gallup Poll, adding that Mitt Romney did not receive a similar bump after the Republican National Convention.
Not only did Romney not receive any increase in polling numbers from the convention, but he actually fell in Gallup’s poll as Obama rose.
“It’s minus one point for Romney,” Newport said.
A similar thing happened in the 2004 election.
“They were similar to what we saw in ’04,” Newport said, noting that President George Bush emerged from convention season ahead and stayed there.
So, if tradition holds, Obama seems poised to recapture the White House, agreed Newport and Madonna.
“Studies show, and our Gallup data shows that where we are now and the beginning of the debates could well predict who ends up winning the election,” said Newport.
Pennsylvanians are unlikely to change their minds in the 50 days between now and Nov. 6, Madonna said because neither side is campaigning much in the state, and the numbers here are unlikely to change.
“There is not a single television commercial in the state by either candidate, and no candidates [here],” he said.
And, Madonna cautioned that there are exceptions to the rule that whomever leads after the conventions wins — pointing to President Jimmy Carter’s lead in 1980, which evaporated in just a few weeks, and Sen. John McCain’s lead in 2008, which vanished after the collapse of investment banking giant Lehman Brothers.
“That settled the campaign,” Madonna said. “Obama never trailed after that point.”
Something like that could happen again, he warned, noting some historical examples: the collapse of Lehman Brothers, and the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis adding, “And now we have what’s going in the Middle East.”
Both campaigns are focusing their efforts on undecided voters. It’s a crucial demographic, Madonna said, but with the country split by strong partisan feelings, the pool of undecideds is much smaller than usual.
“It’s smaller than we’ve had since 1996,” he said. “The polls are showing as few as 4 and as many as 10 or 12 percent undecided. So, if we just run to the middle it’s 7, 8 or 9. That’s half of what we would normally have.”
Overall, Madonna predicted that though Pennsylvania is often talked about as a battleground state — albeit one which has voted solidly Democratic since the election of President George Bush Sr. — would not be a swing state this year.
“Obama’s lead in Pennsylvania is bigger than the lead any of the other candidates have in any of the other states,” he said, adding that even if the state Supreme Court upheld the controversial new voter ID law that was unlikely to change.