Election 2012

Obama Leads Romney by 13 Points in New Poll. Can That Be Right?

Peter Grier|Christian Science Monitor

The preponderance of evidence suggests that a new Bloomberg poll is probably an outlier.  Other polls put Obama ahead of Mitt Romney in the presidential race by one or two points.

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney
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Wow. A new poll out Wednesday shows President Obama with a big lead over presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney. The Bloomberg survey has Mr. Obama in front by 13 points among likely voters, 53 percent to 40 percent. Can that possibly be true?

Well, it could be right. Anything can happen in politics. But the preponderance of evidence indicates that this poll is an outlier — a statistical glitch. The latest RealClearPolitics rolling average of major polls has Obama up by a much narrower 2.3-point margin. And that average includes the Bloomberg results.

Similarly, Gallup’s daily tracking poll has Mr. Romney up by one point Wednesday morning. Some polling experts suggest that Gallup’s results have leaned Republican this cycle. But even if that’s true, it is unlikely it would account for the big difference with Bloomberg.

“This poll is a clear outlier,” tweeted Ezra Klein, Washington Post Wonkblog policy expert, on Wednesday morning.

The Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling firm agreed, saying on its own Twitter feed that it’s unlikely Obama is up by 13 percentage points. The president leads the race, though, and “he’s in far better shape than the conventional wisdom,” according to PPP’s Tom Jenson.

The firm that conducted the Bloomberg survey, Selzer & Co., is well regarded by polling experts. The margin of error for its likely voter results was 3.6 percentage points.

The poll did not include an over-representation of Democrats, or African-Americans – both groups that skew heavily toward the incumbent. One thing that might account for its result, as compared with other surveys, is that it shows Obama doing better among white voters. The Bloomberg survey has him with 43 percent of the white vote, as opposed to 50 percent for Romney.

Despite the poll's overall result, there are some signs of weakness for Obama within the Bloomberg numbers. Only 31 percent of respondents said the U.S. is on the right track. Sixty-two percent said it is on the wrong track.

Only 43 percent of respondents approve of Obama’s handling of the . Fifty-three percent disapprove. And Romney has a slight edge among the most enthusiastic voters, 49 to 48 percent.

“You can see in these data how important turnout will be,” pollster J. Ann Selzer of Selzer & Co. told Bloomberg News. “Those most enthusiastic about the election are more supportive of Romney, but Obama’s voters are more locked into their candidate than Romney’s. Building resolve to vote and making the vote stick is job one, and both candidates face obstacles getting that done.”