Mitt Romney has crept to a 6-percentage point lead over President Obama in Florida, where a new poll shows a majority of registered voters don't think the incumbent deserves a second term.
Romney's 47 percent to 41 percent lead over Obama would grow even bigger -- to an 8 percentage-point advantage -- if the challenger chose Sen. Marco Rubio a running mate, according to Quinnipiac University's new survey released Wednesday.
The seemingly small 2-point advantage with Rubio could be huge in must-win Florida, which Obama won by just 2.8 percentage points in 2008. The last three presidential elections -- including the 2000 elections decided by 537 votes -- have been won by an average spread of 2.6 percentage points.
"Given Florida's recent history, if Rubio were to add 2 points to the Republican ticket, that could be quite important," said Peter A. Brown, assistant vice president of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
But there's a catch, Brown noted: The 2-percentage point boost is not "statistically significant in the 1,722-person poll, which has an error margin of 2.4 percentage-point error margin.
Also, Romney's lead might not be as big as the poll indicates because the survey could have under-sampled Democrats, who appeared to comprise a disproportionately low number of respondents relative to their numbers at the polls or on the voter rolls..
The poll was heavy on nonpartisan and independent voters, who back Romney by 8 percentage points. That could be crucial in Florida, where independents often tip the scales.
Quinnipiac's Brown, however, notes that each respondent was asked if "you consider yourself a Republican, a Democrat, an Independent, or what?" Respondents weren't specifically asked how they were registered. So this gauges the mood of the electorate as it shifts right and left in the course of a campaign.
Party identification doesn't necessarily translate into straight party-line votes, either. Registered active-voting Democrats outnumber Republicans by 443,000 in Florida -- yet the state Legislature and Cabinet are dominated by Republicans. Nelson is the only statewide elected Democrat.Still, Quinnipiac's numbers probably aren't too far off, said Brad Coker, pollster with Mason Dixon Polling & Research, which conducts surveys for The Miami Herald, Tampa Bay Times and private clients. This poll might give Romney a lead that's "a little large," Coker said.
"Romney probably has a lead that's really about 3 or 4 right now," Coker said. "He's still winning."
The Quinnipiac poll indicates that Romney has closed the so-called "gender gap" among women voters with Obama, who barely leads among Hispanics. And Obama is enjoying almost no advantage for his widely publicized decision to publicly favor same-sex unions, which a majority of Floridians now favor.
But regardless of Rubio or the gay-marriage issue, more voters simply view Romney more favorably than they view Obama, the poll shows.
In March, Obama led Romney 49-42. Now, the president is losing in a 13 percentage-point swing in Romney's favor. During that time, third-party political groups called Super PACs have begun to steadily pound Obama in TV ads.
Romney's biggest advantage: the economy. Exactly half of voters say Romney can handle it best, while 40 percent say the same about Obama.
Also, 52 percent of voters disapprove of Obama's job performance and say he doesn't deserve a second term; 44 percent approve and want to see him re-elected.
Romney also could also benefit from the fact that half of Republicans are enthusiastic about voting, while less than a third of Democrats say they're enthusiastic.
Though Romney might not need Rubio right now on the ticket, Rubio doesn't hurt him, either.
With Rubio, Romney's lead grows to a 49-41 advantage over Obama -- a lead well outside the poll's error margin. Florida voters appear to like Rubio more than Vice President Joe Biden.
About 44 percent have a favorable opinion of Rubio, compared to 36 percent who have a favorable view of Biden. About a quarter of voters have an unfavorable view of Rubio, while 42 percent have an unfavorable view of Biden, the poll shows.
Outside of Florida, Rubio's help to the Romney ticket might not matter much. Other polls indicate the freshmen Republican senator isn't well known nationally.
But it might not matter. Romney needs to win Florida, and the poll suggests Rubio would marginally help him do that. Considering the volatile political atmosphere, it's a good bet that the lead could change again in the race.
The poll indicates Florida voters can be fickle.
In 2008, when they chose Obama, more than 60 percent of Florida voters backed a state constitutional ban on gay marriage. Now, the poll says, 50 percent support gay marriage and 40 percent oppose it. Still, that doesn't translate into votes for Obama.
But nearly half of voters say gay marriage is not important at all, while only 22 percent say it's very or extremely important. And about 60 percent of voters say same-sex marriage makes no difference in how they'd vote.
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