Poll: Obama leads in Pa., Ohio and Fla. among likely voters

President Obama leads Republican Mitt Romney with a slim majority of likely voters in each of the crucial battleground states of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida, according to a Quinnipiac University/CBS News/New York Times poll released Tuesday.

It is the first survey of voters who say they plan to vote, considered a more precise measurement of sentiment than polls of registered voters by Quinnipiac and others, in which the president generally has been running in the high 40s.

Conservative critics zeroed in on the poll's methodology, citing data that suggest that it assumed unrealistically high turnout by Democrats

The Quinnipiac pollsters, who partnered with the two news organizations, say that Obama has been lifted by strong support for his plan to increase income taxes on higher-income voters. It also may be interpreted as a sign that the Obama campaign’s early advertising onslaught in swing states – a mostly negative drumbeat against Romney’s career as a private-equity tycoon who has parked money in foreign tax havens – may have gained some traction. Republicans and many independent analysts have argued that the attacks are appeals to class resentment, a rarely successful tack in U.S. politics.

In Pennsylvania, Obama tops Romney 53 to 42 percent in the poll; the president leads by a smaller 50 to 44 percent margin in Ohio, and edges Romney 51 percent to 45 percent in Florida.

Support for Obama’s proposal to extend the Bush-era tax rates only for households making less than $250,000 a year: 58 percent to 37 percent opposed in Florida, 60-37 percent in Ohio and 62 to 34 percent in Pennsylvania.

“If today were November 6, President Barack Obama would sweep the key swing states of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania and – if history is any guide – into a second term in the Oval Office,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.  “The president is running better in the key swing states than he is nationally.  Part of the reason may be that the unemployment rate in Ohio is well below the national average.  In Florida it has been dropping over the past year, while nationally that has not been the case.”

 Romney breaks even with Obama on the question of who is best equipped to handle the economy, however, Brown said. The president’s chief strengths are the traditional “gender gap” – an advantage among women voters - and better "likeability" rankings than Romney has.

Yet the poll sampled 2.5 times more self-identified Democrats in Florida than the network exit poll did four years ago when Obama carried the state by 5 percentage points. Could there be more enthusiasm for Obama now that he is an incumbent with a record and a soft economy rather than a historic first-time candidate?

The new poll also runs counter to national polls which show a tighter race overall. Critics were asking Wednesday how the swing states could be at such variance.

In 18 out of the 20 independent polls of Pennsylvania voters taken since the beginning of the year, Obama has never held this large a lead.

“We have seen growing enthusiasm for Governor Romney in Pennsylvania...from increasing unemployment, rising healthcare costs, to a continuing war on coal that has forced companies to close their doors and lay off workers, President Obama’s policies are making it harder for Pennsylvania’s families and small businesses to survive," said Billy Pitman, state spokesman for the Republican National Committee.

The Quinnipiac/NYT/CBS poll was taken July 24 through July 30, and results are based on telephone interviews with:

1,177 Florida likely voters with a margin of error of +/- 2.9 percent;

1,193 Ohio likely voters with a margin of error of +/- 2.8 percent;

1,168 Pennsylvania likely voters with a margin of error of +/- 2.9 percent.