Poll: Voters give Romney higher marks on leadership

Mitt Romney has seen improvement across a wide swath of leadership metrics — and pulled to a narrow lead in the swing state of Colorado — but continues to trail President Obama in Virginia and Wisconsin according to a new poll.

The poll of the three crucial swing states from CBS News and the New York Times released Thursday shows that the president may have successfully built a firewall in Wisconsin and Virginia, one of which Mitt Romney would likely need to win to secure enough electoral votes for the White House.

In Virginia, the president leads Romney 51-46 percent according to the poll, which actually represents a one-point improvement for Obama over mid-September. In Wisconsin, Obama leads 50-47 percent, down from a 51-45 percent edge in the last poll by the same media organizations. In Colorado, Romney holds a narrow 48-47 percent advantage, the mirror opposite of the president's lead last month.

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And attitudes seem relatively locked-in within each of the swing states, with around 93 percent of voters in each saying their vote had already been decided. 

But there is still evidence that Mitt Romney has built momentum off his consensus win in last week's debate. Romney's favorables are up in each of the three states, and more voters no longer see him as unfavorable than favorable. While the president remains personally popular, his numbers have taken a dip since the last survey.

Romney now outperforms Obama on the question of whether the candidates have strong leadership qualities, and voters are far more likely to say today that he has the ability to be an effective commander-in-chief than they were just a few weeks ago.

Two-thirds of voters in each state say Romney has “strong leadership qualities," at 67 to 29 percent in Colorado, 64 to 30 in Virginia and 65 to 31 in Wisconsin.

A majority in each state say Obama also has those qualities, but his numbers fall short of Romney's with 54-44 in Colorado, 62-37 in Virginia and 59-39 in Wisconsin.

Romney has also seen his numbers improve when voters are asked if he "cares about the needs and problems of people like you" — although notably, more voters in Virginia and Wisconsin continue to say that he does not.

That could be because voters still personally prefer the president over Romney, but the poll also finds voters believing that the economy is improving. In Wisconsin, the number who said the economy was getting better jumped by seven percent; Virginia saw a five-point jump and Colorado another seven-point increase. Last week, the latest jobs figures showed the unemployment rate falling below 8 percent for the first time during the Obama presidency.

There's also some indication the Obama campaign's efforts to paint Romney's debate performance as dishonest have resonated. In Colorado, more voters see Romney as not trustworthy than honest; the number is tied in Wisconsin and Romney holds a single point advantage on the question in Virginia. By contrast, the president is seen by more people as honest and trustworthy than not in each of the three states.

And the poll found voters may have been giving the debate to Romney on style points. Less than four in 10 voters in each of the three states say Romney has clearly explained his specific plans for the economy; the president leads his Republican opponent by double digits on that metric in each of the swing states.

But voters were twice as likely to say that the debate made them more inclined to vote for Romney than Obama, and nearly half of the voters across the three states said it made their opinion of Romney improve. By contrast, less than one in 10 said their opinion of the president had improved after last Wednesday.

The debate has also raised expectations for Romney's running mate Rep. Paul Ryan. Voters in each of the three states, by a sizable margin, suggest the Wisconsin lawmaker will likely get the better of Vice President Biden in their Thursday night debate.