All the caveats apply: Election Day is three months off, and any number of things could happen to upend the Obama campaign; polls this early out are a snapshot in time; and most of the independent voters who will decide the election if it is close haven not yet engaged — except for those who were watching coverage of the opening of the London Olympics.
More about that in a bit. First, three new polls released this week have produced remarkably similar results — and all show voters, particularly independents, moving away from Mitt Romney.
The new CNN/ORC International poll finds Pres. Obama with an 11 point lead over Romney among independents, 53 to 42 percent. The president leads by 7 points overall, 52 to 45 percent. The Reuters-Ipsos poll also released yesterday found the same 7-point gap among all registered voters, 49 to 42 percent.
The Fox News poll also gives the president an 11-point lead among independents, up from 4 points last month. He has a 9 point lead over Romney overall, 49 to 40 percent.
Here’s a key point of reference: Obama-Biden won the 2008 election over McCain-Palin by 7.2 percentage points.
So what is behind Romney’s slippage? Pundits inside the Beltway have no doubt. Romney’s slide is a direct result of the Obama campaign’s negative ads. The way they see it, all voters — not just Fox viewers — are incapable of critical thinking, and voters’ views are dictated by what campaigns tell them to think in 30-second ads.
A less cynical view is Romney’s performance — especially his disastrous overseas trip — is behind the slide. Remember that Romney arrived in London two days before the start of the Olympics, at the same time that wall-to-wall coverage of the Games began. Millions of Americans who don’t follow politics closely — who wouldn’t have been aware of events on Romney’s trip abroad — happened to be tuned in when Romney insulted the British about security preparations for the games, an insult that, with two days to go, proved to be baseless.
Because they were tuned into the Olympics, these regular voters, particularly independents, who don’t usually focus on presidential elections until the party conventions, may have also seen more campaign news than they normally would have. If so, they probably also saw coverage of the Romney campaign’s seemingly daily gaffes (“Kiss my ass, this is a holy site!” for example) as well as Romney’s stubborn refusal to release his taxes and the speculation that has arisen about what it is he may be trying to hide.
In fact, the CNN poll found that two-thirds of independents (67 percent) believe Romney should release his tax returns — 63 percent of all voters agree. In the Reuters poll, 54 percent said Romney’s taxes were an important issue while 46 percent said they weren’t.
The Romney campaign and its donors have to be worried about the results of these three polls. While it’s too soon to know whether they are early indicators, trendlines have shown Obama with a slight but persistent lead over Romney the past few months.
The only downside here for the president is that it is mid-August and he could be peaking too early. If it were Halloween, the die would be cast. But with 90 days to go … see all the caveats above.
On the other hand, if these polls are the start of a trend, they bolster the conventional wisdom about Mitt Romney: The more people get to know him, the less they like him.