WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are running nearly in a dead heat in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania — three big battleground states vital to winning the White House next year — according to a new poll released Thursday.
The Quinnipiac University survey shows Obama leading Romney 45 percent to 42 percent in Ohio and 44 percent to 43 percent in Pennsylvania. In Florida, Romney polled ahead of the president 45 percent to 42 percent.
However, the results in all three states were either within or on the cusp of the polls' error margins, each just under plus or minus 3 percentage points. In 2008, Obama narrowly won all three states. Since 1960, no one has won the presidency without capturing at least two of these three states.
The Quinnipiac survey is chock full of good news/bad news for the president and Romney. Among the pluses for Romney is that he's viewed as more trustworthy than embattled businessman Herman Cain, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and the rest of the GOP presidential field.
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The minus is that, among GOP voters only, Cain leads Romney in a two-man GOP race in Ohio and Florida and is in a statistical tie with Romney in Pennsylvania.
The survey of swing states was conducted from Oct. 31 through Nov. 7, just as sexual-harassment allegations against Cain got heavy news media exposure. The three state polls found that Cain remained strong among Republicans, but his standing among non-Republicans had eroded — especially among women.
"One of the things that's pretty clear is, at least among the general public, Mitt Romney does a good deal better than Herman Cain on a variety of measures — how comfortable people are with the idea of them in the Oval Office, do they consider them trustworthy, do they have the right experience to be president," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
The bad news for Obama is that voters in all three states think Romney is better equipped to deal with the nation's struggling economy. Romney got the nod on that question by a 49 percent to 39 percent margin in Florida, 45 percent to 41 percent in Pennsylvania and 45 percent to 43 percent in Ohio.
"The economy by far is the most important issue to voters," Brown said.
A plurality of voters in all three states also said that Obama does not deserve re-election.
Ohio, however, offers Obama some potential good news, according to Brown. The state appears winnable again due in large part to the Democratic-powered repeal by voters this week of a state law curtailing collective bargaining for public employees and the growing unpopularity of Republican Gov. John Kasich, who had a 36-51 job approval rating in Quinnipiac's Ohio survey.
Still, repeating in Ohio won't be easy for Obama.
"Although the data currently shows Ohio to be winnable for the president, there are many — including some top Democrats — who think it will be a tough job because the state is home to large numbers of blue-collar whites among whom Obama has always had problems," Brown said.
METHODOLOGY: The Quinnipiac survey was conducted Oct. 31 to Nov. 7 with 1,185 Florida voters. Its margin of error was plus or minus 2.9 percentage points. That includes 513 Republicans with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.
In Ohio, 1,312 voters were surveyed with a margin of error of 2.7 percentage points. That Includes 443 Republicans with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.7 percentage points.
In Pennsylvania, 1,436 voters were polled with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points. That includes 579 Republicans with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.
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