WEST LONG BRANCH — The latest Monmouth University Poll of likely voters in this year’s national presidential race shows Mitt Romney with a nominal, but statistically insignificant, one point lead over Barack Obama. As a result of the first presidential debate, more U.S. voters feel they now have a better sense of the GOP challenger’s plans for the country and give him the edge on key issues.
Currently, Gov. Romney leads the incumbent by 47% to 46% among likely American voters. This marks a reversal of the 3-point edge Pres. Obama held in the Monmouth University Poll one month ago. If all registered voters cast ballots, Pres. Obama would cling to a tenuous lead of 46% to 43%. The poll found older voters to be a key demographic that has shifted toward the Republican nominee. Romney now claims a 52% to 44% advantage among likely voters age 55 and older. In September, this group was split at 49% for Obama and 47% for Romney.
“There is no question that the electorate is extremely volatile. Many of the polling shifts we see now are within the margin of error and reflect just how close this race is,” said Patrick Murray, director of the New Jersey-based Monmouth University Polling Institute, adding, “There is no doubt that the candidates’ performances in the first debate changed the underlying dynamic of this race, benefitting Mitt Romney across the board.”
Nearly 6-in-10 likely voters (58%) report watching the entire first debate and another 25% watched clips or parts of it. Only 7% of likely voters say they heard nothing at all about the debate. Just 9% of likely voters report that the debate caused them to have a change of heart about which candidate they would support. Among this group, 73% now declare themselves for Romney to just 18% for Obama. Although this group is small, this shift could represent a net 4 to 5 point swing toward the GOP nominee in the voter preference margin.
Importantly, nearly 6 in-10 voters feel they now know more about Mitt Romney’s plans for the country as a result of the debate, including 27% who know a lot more and 30% a little more. By comparison, less than 4-in-10 say the same about Barack Obama’s plans – 17% feel they know a lot more and 21% know a little more.
Mitt Romney now bests Barack Obama on some key issue areas. The GOP nominee is now more trusted to handle the economy and jobs by a 49% to 45% margin. One month ago, Obama had a 48% to 45% edge on this issue. Romney also has the edge over Obama on the federal budget and national debt by 48% to 44% compared to an evenly divided voter opinion of 47% to 47% in September.
The challenger has also erased the incumbent’s earlier advantage on entitlements and foreign policy. Regarding Social Security and Medicare, 46% of likely voters trust Obama more to a similar 45% for Romney. In September, Obama claimed a clear 50% to 42% advantage on this issue area. When it comes to foreign policy, 47% choose Obama to 45% for Romney, which is a marked change from Obama’s 51% to 42% edge just one month ago.
It appears that the gain in issue advantage also translates to improved personal ratings for Gov. Romney. Just under half (46%) of likely voters now have a favorable opinion of the Republican standard-bearer compared to 39% who have an unfavorable view. One month ago, Romney’s rating was split at just 41% positive to 40% negative. Pres. Obama’s rating, by comparison, is little changed from a month ago. He now gets a 46% favorable to 45% unfavorable split decision. In September, this stood at 46% positive to 43% negative.
“This election is far from over, but it’s hard to deny that Mitt Romney has made gains in practically every area. This is likely to heighten voter interest in the upcoming debates, starting with tonight’s vice presidential face-off,” said Murray.
Fully 6-in-10 voters (60%) say they are very likely to tune in to tonight’s debate between the two parties’ vice presidential nominees. Another 21% are somewhat likely. Perhaps as a sign of reinvigorated enthusiasm, more Republicans (69%) than Democrats (59%) and independents (55%) say they are very likely to watch tonight’s debate. A plurality of likely voters expects that Republican Paul Ryan (40%) will outperform Democrat Joe Biden (31%) in that match-up.
The latest Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone with 1,360 likely voters in the United States from October 8 to 10, 2012. This sample has a margin of error of + 2.7 percent. The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, New Jersey.