Poll: Obama Leads Romney 3 To 1 On Some Topics

Robert Siegel speaks with Andrew Kohut, President of the Pew research Center, about the results of its latest poll on the presidential race. The results show that President Obama leads challenger Mitt Romney among likely voters. His lead is currently larger than the previous three winning presidential candidates had at this point before their elections.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. In the presidential campaign, it was relatively quiet on the stump today, but it was anything but on the cable channels. Pundits and spinmasters continued to chew over that Florida fundraiser and Mitt Romney's controversial line about America's 47 percent.

SIEGEL: That flap is too recent to be reflected in the polls, but there are some new ones out today. One poll from the Pew Research Center shows President Obama in a strong position compared with past victorious presidential candidates. Joining us is Andrew Kohut, the president of Pew. Andy, welcome back to the program.

ANDREW KOHUT: Happy to be here.

SIEGEL: And let's start with a couple of quick headline numbers. Number one, Obama versus Romney. What do you have it at?

KOHUT: Obama has an eight-point lead, 51 to 43. That's stronger than the last three winning presidential candidates at this point in the campaign.

SIEGEL: And who is seen as better at handling the issues of jobs and the deficit?

KOHUT: It's pretty close, actually. Romney has a small edge. It's not statistically significant, but these are thought to be his strong points - but they really don't show up as his strong points, and he trails on all of the other major issues by significant numbers - health care, 52 to 39, Medicare 51 to 38, abortion 48 to 35.

SIEGEL: Another number that jumped out at us; President Obama now leads Mitt Romney by nearly 3 to 1, 66 percent to 23 percent, as the candidate who connects well with ordinary Americans. Does this mean that the president has finally put the aloof professorial rap behind him?

KOHUT: I don't know whether that's as much a question of Obama's success as Romney's problems. He has a problem in being seen empathetic. He loses to Obama at a 50 percent to 40 percent margin on "shares my values," and in other questions, the sense of his connecting with ordinary people is not very good. He has a credibility problem, too, and both of these two combine to give him a net personal favorable rating that's significantly below 50 percent.

SIEGEL: You were polling while the Middle East protests were raging and U.S. personnel were killed in Libya. What did you hear from Americans about foreign policy and security issues?

KOHUT: Well, Americans approved, by a 45 to 36 plurality, of the way Obama handled that crisis. They disapproved, by a 2 to 1 margin, Romney's comments. And when we asked them more generally about foreign policy, they prefer Obama to Romney, 53 to 38, on the Middle East 50 to 39.

SIEGEL: What does a lead in mid-September actually mean?

KOHUT: Well, it's the way the campaign really starts, heading into the final 50 days or so. We've got 21 percent of the voters here who say that they might change their mind. It's about what we would expect for an incumbent election, and it's going to be a struggle about the way that 21 percent breaks.

SIEGEL: Amid other numbers out today, there's a pretty similar result in a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll. Obama 50, 45. It also shows them even on the question who can deal best with the economy. But there's also a Gallup Tracking poll, an Associated Press poll out today showing a tightened race, a 1-point Obama lead. I want you to tell us a little bit about the secret sauce in a poll here, how it is that polls can be out at the same time, but in part, the judgments you make about who the likely voters are give us very different results.

KOHUT: Yeah. I mean, I think figuring out likely voters is so very important. We use nine questions at this point to produce a scale of people who are likely to vote. And these questions have been tested. Over the years, we've matched the answers to people's voting records, so we know how these questions work. I think in many cases the likely voter cuts, at this point, aren't made as rigorously.

That isn't to say that the differences between polls are only predicated upon that. Part of it has to do with - there's a lot of change going on right now. You call someone up who had been leaning to Romney and they're going to tell you maybe Obama one day and a day later they're going to give you a somewhat different answer. But you can see the overall drift of the polling is now stronger for Obama and the race is close in some polls and Obama leads in others.

But in no polls do we see Romney ahead, and that is a very significant factor as we look forward to the main campaign and the debates.

SIEGEL: Andy, thanks for talking with us.

KOHUT: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center.

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