Obama up by 8 points in new Mercyhurst U poll

President Obama has a solid lead over Republican Mitt Romney in Pennsylvania with just over six weeks to go in the campaign, according to a new Mercyhurst University poll of likely voters released Monday.

Forty-eight percent of likely Pennsylvania voters say they would cast their ballots for Obama, while 40 percent would vote for Romney if the election were held today. Just six percent say they are undecided.

The survey of 522 likely voters was conducted from Sept. 18-22, and the results are subject to a margin of error of plus or minus 4.29 percentage points.

Mercyhurst’s findings are consistent with a pair of polls conducted in the state over the past two weeks. The Philadelphia Inquirer Pennsylvania Poll published Sept. 16 had Obama leading Romney 50 percent to 39 percent, and the Sept. 18 Morning Call/Muhlenberg College Poll showed Obama with a 50 percent to 41 percent lead.

Those results are within the range of other recent polls - including one by Rasmussen Reports, considered a GOP-leaning firm, which put Obama up by 12 points in the state. Real Clear Politics, the news site that aggregates polling, says that Obama's lead currently averages 8 percentage points.

But a poll published Sunday in The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review found a much closer race –with Obama leading 47 percent to 45 percent, and six percent undecided. That survey of 800 likely voters was conducted Sept. 18-20 by Susquehanna Polling & Research, and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

Susquehanna, a Republican-oriented firm based in Harrisburg, says its results differ because it based its sampling on a forecast of a lower voter turnout than in 2008.

“Barack Obama is in a good position in the state, but the race isn’t over,” said Joseph Morris, the director of the Mercyhurst Center for Applied Politics, which conducted the most recent poll for the Erie-based school.

"This year’s presidential debates are going to be pivotal,” Morris said. “They’ll provide Barack Obama with the opportunity to remind people why they voted for him four years ago, and offer Mitt Romney the chance to show that he has what it takes to be president.  In a close election like this one, good debate performances may be the difference between winning and losing.”

Among the other findings in the Mercyhurst poll:

Of respondents indicate they will vote for Obama, 63 percent say they strongly support him; 17 percent say their vote is more motivated by opposition to Romney. Among those who will vote for Romney, 43 percent say they strongly support him; 39 percent indicate they are voting for Romney because they oppose Obama.

Just 49 percent of Pennsylvania’s likely voters say they have heard of super PACs, which can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections and have been a major factor in 2012. Of those who knew about the groups, 68 percent said they should not be unlimited in their spending ability, and 71 percent said that the groups should be required to disclose the names of their donors. A sizable majority of them, 63 percent, of respondents said that super PACs had a negative effect on the presidential race.