The Hill Poll: Voters switch, saying Obama is set to win second term

A strong majority of likely voters now expect President Obama to win a second term after an abrupt shift in perceptions about the state of the race, according to The Hill’s latest election poll.

The survey found 53 percent of voters believe Obama will triumph on Nov. 6, a huge swing from the 43 percent who held that view immediately before the Democratic convention early last month.

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During the same period, the proportion of voters who think GOP challenger Mitt Romney will win shrank from 46 percent to 41 percent, The Hill’s poll found.

The doom-laden numbers for Romney reflect the fact that 50 percent of voters say the president and the Democrats have run a better campaign, while only 41 percent give the nod to Romney and Republicans.

The poll, conducted Sept. 27 for The Hill by Pulse Opinion Research, highlights the pressure Romney will be under to deliver a strong performance at his first debate with Obama on Wednesday in Denver.

Eighty-five percent of voters said they are likely to watch the opening debate, compared to 12 percent who said they were not likely to tune in.

The Republican candidate has endured a difficult four-week stretch on the campaign trail, while Obama’s Gallup approval rating over the same period has risen to its highest level in more than a year.

Democrats were seen as having a stronger convention than Republicans, who saw actor Clint Eastwood upstage Romney.

The GOP nominee then faced criticism for his initial response to the assaults against U.S. diplomatic missions in Egypt and Libya.

That has hampered his ability to make a bigger issue of the Obama administration’s changing account of the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens.

More problematic, Romney spent several crucial days dealing with the fallout over a secretly recorded video that showed him telling campaign donors that his “job is not to worry about” 47 percent of voters because they are dependent on government and cannot be persuaded to “take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

The Hill Poll’s results come on the heels of a string of national and swing-state polls showing Obama maintaining a slim-to-comfortable lead over his challenger.

Gallup’s national seven-day tracking poll on Sunday showed Obama with a 49-44 percent lead. Obama also holds advantages over Romney in Ohio, Florida and Virginia: three of the most important Electoral College battlegrounds.

Perhaps not surprisingly, The Hill’s latest poll found Democrats are growing more confident and Republicans more pessimistic just five weeks before the election.

Seventy-two percent of Republicans believe Romney will win the election, down from 76 percent in The Hill’s poll on Sept. 2.

By comparison, 87 percent of Democrats now say Obama will win, up from 78 percent early in September.

More disturbing for Romney’s campaign — and more encouraging for Obama’s — is that far more centrist and non-aligned voters now feel the election is tilting in the president’s direction.

Among centrists, 65 percent think Obama will win, compared to 31 percent who say Romney.

A month ago, only 40 percent of centrist voters thought Obama would win; 44 percent picked Romney.

A similar trend is evident among ‘other’ voters — those who identify as neither Republicans nor Democrats. The Hill’s poll found 52 percent of those people think Obama will win, up from 36 percent in early September.

Obama is favored to win across all age groups, as well. Sixty percent of voters aged 18-39 think the president will get a second term compared to 36 percent who said Romney will win. The margin is narrower among voters aged 40-64 (48 percent said Obama, 45 said Romney) and those over 65 (48 percent said Obama, 46 said Romney).

The Republican has faced a barrage of criticism recently over his campaign’s overall direction, much of it from conservative pundits who say the candidate has lacked focus and been too cautious in his attacks on Obama.

That Republican unease is reflected in the poll.

While 84 percent of Democrats think Obama has run the better campaign, 73 percent of Republicans think their candidate has been more effective.

By a 2-to-1 margin (62 percent to 31), voters who identify themselves as “centrists” say Obama and the Democrats have run a better campaign than Romney.

The view that Obama has outperformed Romney is particularly important because many polls have shown the president began the election with built-in challenges.

He received low marks for his handling of the economy and overall job performance throughout much of the year.

The Hill’s poll on Sept. 2 found that 54 percent of voters said Obama, based on job performance, did not deserve to be reelected.

Despite the struggles Romney has had connecting with voters, the latest Hill Poll found voters believe the former Massachusetts governor matches up well against Obama on a major character issue.

When asked which candidate “most shares your values,” 48 percent said Romney and 46 percent said Obama. That’s similar to Hill Poll results from late July, when Romney led 48 percent to 44 on the same question.

The poll did not ask people which candidate they planned to vote for on Nov. 6.

With three presidential debates looming, however, the Hill Poll found a significant number of voters (9 percent) said they remained either somewhat or very likely to change their mind before election day.

Eighty-nine percent said they were not likely to change their minds.

The Hill Poll was conducted among 1,000 likely voters and is considered accurate within 3 percentage points.

Thirty-six percent of those polled identified as Republicans, 34 percent said they were Democrats and 30 percent had other or no political affiliation.

Click here to view data from The Hill Poll.