Polls: Tight race in Fla., but Obama holds edge with independents

President Obama and GOP contender Mitt Romney remain locked in a tight race for the key battleground of Florida, but Obama is gaining among the state’s independent voters, according to two new polls.

The new Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times poll released late Sunday finds Obama topping Romney by 1 point, with 48 percent support among likely voters to the GOP nominee's 47, an edge well within the survey’s 3.5 percent margin of error. Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, tallies 1 percent, with 4 percent of voters undecided.

A survey from Democratic firm Public Policy Polling (PPP) gives Obama a wider, 4-point lead over Romney, with 50 percent support to 46. 

But both polls found Obama leading Romney by 11 points among independent voters, a key group that could swing the state. That represents a 6-point shift in favor of the president from the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times poll taken in July.

The PPP poll finds Romney’s favorability rating dropping after last month’s GOP convention, held in Tampa. Romney was at 49 percent favorable to 47 unfavorable in the same poll taken over Labor Day weekend and is now under water at 44 favorable, 51 unfavorable.

Both polls were conducted as a leaked videotape from a Romney fundraiser showed the GOP candidate saying that “47 percent” of Americans were dependent on government and could be expected to back Obama.

In the PPP survey, 89 percent of voters said they were familiar with the comments and 50 percent said they were inappropriate, to 44 percent who did not have an issue with the remarks. Independent voters, though, said the remarks were improper by a 58-37 margin. 

The Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times poll found Obama and Romney deadlocked over who is more trustworthy on the economy, with 48 percent picking each. But Obama held a slight edge in PPP’s survey, with voters picking Obama by 50 to 46.

Fifty-one percent in the Herald/Times poll say they are not better off than they were four years ago, to 41 percent. More than two-thirds say Obama bears some responsibility for the continuing weak recovery, while 31 percent say the administration is not at fault. A majority of voters overall say the economy is on the wrong track.

Forty-seven percent in the Herald/Times poll also approve of Obama’s job performance, with 45 percent disapproving. 

Obama also holds a lead on a traditional GOP strong point, foreign policy, up 6 points over Romney in the Herald/Times poll. Fifty-one percent say they trust the president more on foreign affairs, with 45 percent preferring Romney. In the PPP survey, Obama led Romney 50 to 45 on foreign policy.

This edge comes after weeks of anti-American protests in the Middle East, sparked by an amateur anti-Islam film posted to YouTube, left four Americans dead. Romney said the violence highlighted missteps in Obama’s handling of the Arab Spring, but Democrats countered that the GOP candidate was politicizing an international crisis.

The Herald/Times poll also finds Romney almost even with the president on Medicare. Forty-nine percent say Obama can best protect Medicare, with 47 percent backing Romney.

Democrats have made GOP vice presidential pick Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) Medicare reform proposals a centerpiece of their attacks on the Republican ticket in the state, arguing that the plan would raise healthcare costs for seniors.

The Romney campaign has countered with claims that Obama cut $716 billion from Medicare, weakening the program to pay for his healthcare reform plan. But Obama campaign officials say the reductions in spending targeted waste and fraud, not benefits.

Obama leads Romney by 9 points among Hispanic voters, a key demographic in the state, but that edge is well below Obama’s strong lead among the group in national polls. Romney is buoyed in the state by the large number of Cuban-American voters, who trend toward the GOP.

Florida is one of 12 swing states Obama carried in 2008 that will determine the outcome of November’s election.

The Herald/Times poll was conducted from Sept. 17 to 19 and has a 3.5-point margin of error. The PPP survey was conducted from Sept. 20 to 23 and has a 3-point margin of error.