October 3, 2012
Anna Christopher, NPR




As President Barack Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney prepare to face one another in the first Presidential debate this evening, an NPR News bipartisan public opinion poll shows the President with a modest lead of 51-44 percent among likely voters nationwide. In battleground states, that lead dips by just one percentage point, to 50% Obama and 44% Romney. This poll shows a widening lead for the incumbent since the last NPR News survey in July, when there was a virtual tie between the candidates.

Full results are available now at the It's All Politics blog, and are being reported on Morning Edition by National Political Correspondent Mara Liasson.

Whit Ayers, the Republican half of NPR's bipartisan polling team, explains why these current numbers may overstate the Obama advantage. Ayers tells NPR: "When you sample voters over time, you inevitably get varying proportions of Democrats and Republicans in the sample. It's nothing nefarious, just the vagaries of sampling. This sample ended up with seven points more Democrats than Republicans. In 2008, there were seven points more Democrats than Republicans in the electorate, according to exit polls. But in 2004, there were equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans."

Among the findings:
  • Role of independents: Romney has the advantage: the NPR poll found him with a 4-point favorite among independent voters.

  • On tonight's debate: 83% of those polled say they plan to tune into all or parts of the first debate. One in four said the debate could influence their vote.

  • On the President's approval rating: Nationally, the President was at 50% approval (46% disapproval), but in the battleground, he was at 48% approval to 49% disapproval.

  • On Congress: Likely voters are split on support for Republican and Democrat candidates for Congress, with 46% indicating they will vote for the Republican candidate, vs. 45 percent for Democrats.

  • On direction of the country: Battleground voters were more downbeat about the direction of the country, with 59% of those surveyed feeling the country is on the wrong track, and just 36% saying it's headed in the right direction. That gap of 23 points was only 16 points on the same question in the national sample.

  • For the NPR Poll, Democrat Stan Greenberg and Republican Whit Ayres surveyed likely voters nationwide with an over-sampling in 12 battleground states considered crucial to the outcome of this election: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. A previous NPR News poll in July 2012 found a virtual tie between Obama (getting 47 percent) and Romney (holding 45 percent).

    NPR News Election 2012 will offer live on-air and online special coverage of all four debates, beginning tonight from 9-11PM (ET). Reporting to date is aggregated at the "Election 2012" hub: from hours of live, special coverage of the primaries, caucuses and conventions; to the two-part series "Political Ad Wars," examining the negative focus and unprecedented spending levels for presidential campaign ads, with a focus on one swing community. "The Swing State Project" further examines how national politics has shaped the political climates of the states crucial to this election; and "Money & Politics" explores the extent to which money influences elections and policy. NPR News will continue to offer original reports and information on the presidential race, with live coverage on Election Day, to be announced.