In the home stretch to Election Day, President Obama has secured a commanding lead in New Jersey - 14 points - over Republican challenger Mitt Romney, according to the Inquirer New Jersey Poll conducted last week.
Support for the president is even stronger in the seven South Jersey counties, with Obama leading Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, 56 to 34 percent compared with 51-37 percent statewide. Obama has a double-digit lead among unaffiliated voters, and he enjoyed a bounce in support from those who watched the Democratic convention on TV earlier this month.
On the other hand, 32 percent of those who watched the Republican convention said they were less likely to vote for Romney, with 26 percent more likely to support him.
The poll of 600 voters was conducted by phone Sept. 9 to Sept. 12 by a bipartisan team of pollsters from the Democratic firm Global Strategy Group and the Republican firm National Research Inc. The statewide margin of error is 4 percent; in South Jersey (Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, and Salem Counties), the margin of error is 8.5 percent.
11 points in Pa.
A similar survey conducted last week, the Inquirer Pennsylvania Poll, found Obama leading Romney by 11 points in Pennsylvania, which is not considered as much a swing state as it once was. In Philadelphia and its four surrounding Pennsylvania counties, Obama has a dominant 61-32 percent lead.
Unlike New Jersey, Pennsylvania is getting some attention from candidates visiting the state and airing TV ads. Neither campaign has directed a TV ad at New Jersey voters so far in the general election campaign, and neither Obama nor Romney has held a rally in the state (although Romney has visited to raise money).
Even Gov. Christie, a Republican and Romney booster, has repeatedly conceded that his state is not winnable.
The Inquirer poll's New Jersey findings are in line with those of other recent surveys. A Fairleigh Dickinson University poll released Friday also had Obama beating Romney by 14 points in the state.
'Whole lot tighter'
But Adam Geller, a GOP pollster from National Research Inc., cautions the Obama camp not to order balloons for its Garden State victory party yet. He said that almost all the 12 percent of voters who picked neither candidate would end up voting for Romney. As a general rule, undecided voters rarely end up with the incumbent, he said.
That would cut Obama's margin significantly - and it indicates weakness, Geller said.
"I'm not suggesting that Romney is going to win [New Jersey]; I'm saying it's a whole lot tighter than it would appear," Geller said.
The October debates, he said, will "be very, very telling" when it comes to swaying voters.
The Democratic pollster on the Inquirer poll, Jeffrey Plaut of Global Strategy Group, said Obama was still strong where it matters - among the unaffiliated voters "who made Jon Corzine governor, then made Chris Christie governor, then made sure Obama won in '08."
In addition, Obama has higher overall favorability ratings than Romney.
"As my kids say, to know Romney - from a New Jersey voter perspective - is a big meh," Plaut concluded.
For the Garden State, "right now it looks like the same kind of race at the presidential level that it was in '08."
Polls taken at this time in 2008 had Obama leading, but by a smaller margin. Obama went on to defeat Republican John McCain, 57-42 percent, in New Jersey.
This year, the poll found, the most important problem affecting the presidential contest is the economy. Jobs, health care, taxes and the entitlement programs (Medicare and Social Security) lag far behind.
"Every time I turn around there's another business closing; there's nobody hiring," said Romney supporter Michael Wall of Marlton, who took part in the poll.
But others polled - including Republicans - credited Obama with fixing the economy.
Brian Pinkard, 53, of Burlington Township, is retired from the military and a registered Republican who voted for George W. Bush and says he will pull the lever for Obama. "Because of the direction he has taken us, we'll have the greatest success in stimulating the economy," he said.
If not for Obama, he said, "we could be in the same situation as Greece or Spain or Italy," where the economies are collapsing.
Former President Bill Clinton's speech at the Democratic convention - in which he painstakingly defended Obama's record - was helpful, Pinkard said.
"Obama and his people have a difficult time connecting and conveying the message," he said. "It's a good thing he had Clinton there to really support it."
Another registered Republican, Alexander Morgan, 21, of Palmyra, said Obama helped steer the country away from a depression. Morgan called Romney "indecisive - he says what people want to hear."
"He's so out of whack, out of touch, it's terrifying," Morgan said.
The GOP presidential primaries were bad for the Republicans, Morgan said, because they exposed extremists in their ranks. Morgan ended up voting for Libertarian Ron Paul.
Despite Obama's popularity in the New Jersey, most voters could not identify his religion. Only 34 percent knew that the president is Protestant, while 13 percent believe he is Muslim.
"He's a Muslim," said Robert Johnson of Franklin Township, a retired Cherry Hill police officer who was polled. "Anybody who tells you he's not a Muslim has got to be nuts."
Yet Johnson, 64, is far more concerned that Obama "shoved that Obamacare down our throats," allowed Democrats to initially pull the word God out of their party platform, and lent millions to a solar company that went bankrupt.
Despite Romney's briefer time on the national stage, New Jerseyans are far more familiar with his religion. Sixty-nine percent of voters statewide - and 75 percent in South Jersey - correctly identified him as a Mormon. Overall, 10 percent of voters said they were uncomfortable with Romney's religion.
As for the perception that Obama is a Muslim, one voter cited the president's unusual name, while Geller said part of it is "denial."
"And part of it is people have heard so many different things, they just don't know what to believe," he said.
Among those who mistakenly believe Obama is a Muslim, 17 percent statewide said they were nonetheless comfortable with it; 64 percent were not.
Johnson, who is registered with neither party, does not hold the Muslim factor against Obama: "I could care less what the guy is. If the guy was a Muslim and ran the country right, I'd be OK with it."
Contact Matt Katz at 609-217-8355 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @mattkatz00. Read his blog, "Christie Chronicles," at www.philly.com/christiechronicles.