The Morning Joe gang Monday took a look at a new USA Today/Gallup poll of swing states – the first to come out since Mitt Romney emerged last month as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
Voters in the 12 battlegrounds gave Obama a 47-45 edge – well within the poll’s margin of error.
Sixty percent of respondents said they thought Romney would do a good job on the economy over the next four years, compared to 52 percent who said that of the president.
But perhaps the poll’s most interesting finding was an enthusiasm gap that, surprisingly, favors Obama. Fifty-seven percent of Democrats said they’re extremely or very enthusiastic about voting, compared to 46 percent of Republicans who said the same. That’s a major turnaround from last year, when the GOP held a 14-percent edge on the question.
TIME’s Mark Halperin said the swing may be explained by enduring doubts among Republicans about their candidate.
“Governor Romney in some ways is a shocking person to have emerged in today’s Republican Party as the nominee,” said Halperin. “And I think people still haven’t warmed to him.”
But Sam Stein of the Huffington Post found some better news for the former Massachusetts governor. “That same USA Today poll had Obama plus 27 percent on likability over Mitt Romney, but Romney is only 2 percentage points behind,” Stein noted. “If he closes that [likability] gap, combine that with the economic news that might emerge from Europe, he’s sitting in a very enviable position.”
Of course, Halperin said Team Obama will aim to stop Romney from closing the likability gap by “defining him on negative terms” – pundit-speak for relentlessly attacking him.
Republican strategist Mark McKinnon joined the panel a day after his latest Daily Beast column argued that a different enthusiasm gap – this one among the young voters who in 2008 made up a key part of Obama’s base – could spell trouble for the president.
“Just 50 percent of college-age youth approve of his performance overall,” McKinnon wrote. “That’s 5 points less than their 25-29 year old peers.”
Stein said those low marks among the youngest voters are a result of the Washington bickering that Obama tried unsuccessfully to transcend.
“What’s happened over the past three years is you’ve seen Obama really dragged into that mess that he said he was going to rise above,” said Stein. “And I think that that’s disillusioned a lot of people.”