PRINCETON, NJ -- If asked to choose between them today, 49% of U.S. registered voters say they would vote for Barack Obama for president, while 45% would choose likely Republican opponent Mitt Romney. While Obama's advantage is not statistically significant, it is the largest he has had over Romney in Gallup polling to date.
Obama has a larger, significant lead, 51% to 43%, over Rick Santorum, Romney's chief rival for the Republican nomination, in the March 25-26 USA Today/Gallup poll. In mid-February, when Santorum led as national Republicans' choice for the nomination, he and Obama were tied.
Obama leads both Romney and Santorum among independent voters, faring slightly better against Santorum than he does against Romney. Romney and Santorum currently fare about equally well among Republican voters.
Notably, very few Democrats or Republicans are undecided in either matchup, underscoring how important it is that Obama and the eventual Republican nominee appeal to independents to win in November.
Voter Enthusiasm Waning, Especially Among Romney Supporters
Forty-two percent of registered voters nationwide say they are "extremely" or "very enthusiastic" about voting for president in this year's election. That is down significantly from 52% in January and 47% and 48% in December and October, respectively.
The decline is especially apparent among Romney voters, whose enthusiasm has fallen 13 percentage points from January, and now is on par with Obama voters' enthusiasm. Prior to the latest poll, at least half of Romney voters were extremely or very enthusiastic about voting, and their enthusiasm exceeded that of Obama voters.
The decline in Romney voters' enthusiasm mirrors the trend in enthusiasm among Republican registered voters more generally, which is down 12 points since January, 61% to 49%. Democratic registered voters' enthusiasm has dropped a smaller seven points, 58% to 51%.
Obama Ahead in Swing States
Obama has a 51% to 42% lead over Romney in USA Today/Gallup polling of registered voters in 12 key swing states, conducted March 20-26. This is the first time in five measurements that Obama has held an advantage over Romney in those states.
Obama also leads Santorum in the swing states, by 52% to 41%.
The momentum in the 2012 U.S. presidential election appears to be going in Obama's favor; he now enjoys his best positioning against likely Republican nominee Romney nationally and in key swing states to this point in the campaign. Obama's improved standing may result from Americans' improving confidence in the economy and satisfaction with the way things are going in the United States.
Still, the election remains competitive, in that Obama's advantage nationally is not a statistically significant lead. As Republicans try to halt Obama's momentum, one potential hurdle for the party -- and for Romney supporters in particular -- is their declining enthusiasm about voting this year.
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Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted March 25-26, 2012, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 901 registered voters, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
For results based on the total sample of registered voters, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
Results for voters in 2012 Election swing states are based on telephone interviews conducted March 20-26, 2012, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 933 registered voters, aged 18 and older, living in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.
For results based on the total sample of swing state registered voters, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.