Poll: Obama widens lead in Pa.
President Obama, already ahead in Pennsylvania, received a small bump from the Democratic National Convention and now leads Mitt Romney in the state by 11 points, according to the Inquirer Pennsylvania Poll.
But with eight weeks left before the Nov. 6 election, with debates yet to be held, and with foreign affairs suddenly atop the national agenda, it's early to concede the state to Obama, a bipartisan team of Inquirer pollsters said.
"I'm not 100 percent prepared to say Pennsylvania is not in play," said Adam Geller, of National Research Inc., a Republican firm.
Jeffrey Plaut, of Global Strategy Group, Geller's Democratic partner in the Inquirer poll, put it this way: "Is Pennsylvania done? Put a fork in it? I would say not yet."
The Romney camp clearly has signaled doubts about Pennsylvania by slashing TV ads and candidate appearances. Obama, too, has cut back, and the state lags behind Ohio, Florida, and other swing states as targets for the most intensive campaigning.
The Inquirer survey of 600 likely voters, conducted Sept. 9-12, found that 50 percent would vote for Obama if the election were held today, and 39 percent would vote for Romney.
Obama's lead was up from the 9 points found in the first Inquirer poll, Aug. 21-23, in which he led, 51-42. Poll results included voters who were leaning toward a candidate. Both surveys had an error margin of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The Obama edge stands where it was when the 2008 campaign ended. Obama beat John McCain, the GOP nominee that year, by 10 1/2 points.
A companion Inquirer New Jersey Poll, also taken Sept. 9-12, showed Obama ahead by 14 points, 51-37.
The president's current standing is largely built on his overwhelming backing in the Philadelphia television market, home to more than 40 percent of the state's voters. That offsets support for Romney in the more conservative Pittsburgh market and some other areas.
Statewide, Obama was ahead among all age groups, among both men and women, among those with college education and those without.
He was marginally ahead among white voters, 46-43, and overwhelmingly ahead among black voters, 93-3.
Poll respondent William Eberle, a Romney backer, wondered in a follow-up interview if the results might be skewed by what he sees as the reluctance of some white voters to "go on record saying something critical about the first black president."
Eberle, of Lansdowne, a retired economics and accounting professor at Community College of Philadelphia, referred to the Wilder Effect. In 1989, Virginia Lt. Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, an African American, held a big lead over a white opponent in polls for governor. On Election Day, he squeaked by. Analysts attributed the dropoff to a fear by white poll respondents of being seen as racist.
The Inquirer's pollsters, however, said they did not see a Wilder Effect here. There was no evidence of it in the 2008 election, they said. And, as Plaut noted, Obama is a fair target after four years in office for anybody who wants to carp.
"Americans have been very willing to express it when they like or don't like the president," Plaut said.
The poll found 56 percent of voters held a favorable view of Obama and 40 percent did not. He appeared to get a boost from the Democratic convention, while Romney gained little from his convention.
Among people who changed their mind after watching the GOP convention on TV, more veered away from Romney than turned toward him, the poll found.
Slightly more Pennsylvania voters dislike Romney (48 percent) than like him (46 percent). That's a bit better for him than in the first Inquirer poll.
For black voters, ethnic pride continues to be a powerful factor.
But Anina Walker, a hotel housekeeper from Philadelphia's Feltonville section, said her feelings for Obama were less important than her sense that he will do more for public schools, save Medicare, and promote the health interests of Americans.
"A president is a president," Walker said. "It's time to keep him in office, to do what he's doing."
Half of poll respondents identified the economy and jobs as the No. 1 issue. Among other issues, Obama's health-care legislation stood out. So, to a lesser extent, did the deficit and taxes.
The Inquirer poll, for the first time, asked voters for their views on the candidates' religion.
More than two-thirds - 68 percent - knew that Romney was a Mormon. Voters seemed confused about Obama's faith, with 29 percent correctly identifying him as a Protestant and 12 percent saying he is a Muslim.
A majority of voters said neither man's religion made them feel uncomfortable.
"It doesn't matter to me," said Grace Marateo, a Democrat from Harleysville.
Marateo, who works part time as an administrative assistant, said she listened to Obama's whole speech at the convention but did not bother to tune in for Romney's.
She has made up her mind: She's for Obama. Yet she feels less enthusiastic than she did four years ago.
"I have some reservations this time - I guess campaign promises that didn't get filled, the inability to get things done," she said.
What drives her is a dislike for GOP positions. "I don't agree with their stance on abortion rights and gay marriage, and the constant tax cuts."
Tim Pierson, a stay-at-home father of three and a Republican from Yardley, said he felt strongly that Obama has to go.
"I blame his leadership," Pierson said. "I see the Congress stalemated and failed leadership in the White House. It isn't the hope-and-change promise that he put out there. It's been more partisan - to push through things that the liberal base wants, rather than to get bipartisan support for things."
Plaut, the Democratic pollster, said the debates could tilt the outcome nationally - and potentially make a difference in Pennsylvania.
Unlike voters in states where early voting is permitted - it's already under way in North Carolina - Pennsylvanians will see all three debates before casting ballots, Plaut said.
"The whole playing field is still in front," he said.
Still, he said, "it's a rule of thumb in politics that whoever is leading in the middle of September generally wins."
Geller, the Republican pollster, said there was "little question" Obama got a "post-convention bump."
"But there are world events unfolding," he said, "and we'll see what new polling shows in a couple of weeks."
Though Obama may be well ahead, he is only at the 50 percent mark, Geller said. It would not take much for him to lose majority support.
"I think President Obama is probably taking Pennsylvania for granted," he said. "And I would hope that the Romney campaign would take a second look at it at some point."
It's evident that the Romney campaign and its Republican allies are aiming at targets they consider more achievable than Pennsylvania - at least for now.
From April 1 through the first week of this month, the Romney campaign and its super-PAC allies spent $10.4 million on ads in Pennsylvania, according to Democratic ad buyers who track the expenditures. Romney has been off the air in the state since before the April 30 primary, when his last remaining rival for the Republican nomination, former Sen. Rick Santorum, dropped out.
Instead, GOP groups have bumped up their ad buys in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
The Obama campaign and its super-PAC allies have spent $9 million in Pennsylvania. Most ads are off the air now, although TV viewers may see an occasional Obama ad on cable.
Considering that Romney has a cash advantage over Obama and an array of flush super-PACs, it's "maddening" that the campaign is not making more of a push on Pennsylvania airwaves, said Mike Hudome, a Washington-based GOP media consultant with roots in Delaware County.
"We're supposed to move polls with advertising, not react to polls," Hudome said. "If we ratcheted it up, we could actually win the state."
The Romney campaign does not concede that Pennsylvania is out of reach. Gov. Corbett told reporters last week that the state was still winnable for his party's nominee, based on "a deeply local and targeted campaign" of voter contacts.
Contact Tom Infield at 610-313-8205 or email@example.com, or follow on Twitter @tinfield.