PRINCETON, NJ — Fifty-six percent of Americans think Barack Obama will win the 2012 presidential election, compared with 36% who think Mitt Romney will win. Democrats are more likely to believe that Obama will win than Republicans are to believe Romney will. Independents are nearly twice as likely to think that Obama, rather than Romney, will prevail.
The results are based on a May 10-13 USA Today/Gallup poll. The poll was conducted at a time when U.S. registered voters are evenly divided in their vote preferences. Gallup’s latest Daily tracking update, based on May 8-14 interviewing, shows 46% of voters preferring Obama and 45% Romney.
It is unclear why Americans are more inclined to predict an Obama than a Romney victory when the two are essentially tied in Gallup’s latest election polling. It may be that Americans recognize the advantages Obama has as the incumbent and that historically, presidents seeking re-election usually win. For example, in March 2004, when President George W. Bush and John Kerry were about tied in voter preferences, more said Bush (52%) than Kerry (42%) would win. Or, Americans may expect in the months between now and the election that conditions in the U.S. will improve, which would make the incumbent’s re-election more certain.
Americans are a bit more likely now to say Obama has a better chance of winning than they were at a similar point in 2008. A June 2008 Gallup poll found 52% predicting Obama would win, while 41% thought Republican John McCain would. By October 2008, weeks after the financial crisis, Americans were more certain Obama would win that election, 71% to 23%.
Including the 2008 election, Americans’ predictions of the four prior presidential elections were also generally accurate.
- In three separate measurements in 2004, Americans thought Bush would be the winner in two and were split in their predictions in the other, conducted immediately after the Democratic convention. In the final prediction, from mid-October, 56% thought Bush would win and 36% thought Kerry would.
- The accuracy of the 2000 election prediction is harder to evaluate, given that Al Gore won the popular vote and George W. Bush the electoral vote. In four out of five measurements that year, Americans thought Bush would win, though in the final measurement, taken in mid-September, Americans gave Gore the edge.
- In an August 1996 poll, Americans overwhelmingly believed incumbent Bill Clinton (69%) would defeat Bob Dole (24%).
Americans currently see Obama as a solid favorite to win re-election. This is perhaps a slightly more optimistic assessment than is currently warranted, given that registered voters’ candidate preferences are evenly split between Obama and Romney. However, Americans have typically given an edge to the incumbent in years in which a president was seeking re-election.
In addition to the close division in current Obama-Romney vote intentions, other key election indicators also point to a more uncertain outcome at this point, including Americans’ sub-50% approval ratings of the president and their more negative than positive assessments of the U.S. economy. At the same time, both of those measures are improved from where they were last fall, indicating Americans are feeling a bit better about the job Obama is doing and about the economy than they were earlier in his presidency.
Gallup will continue to track voters’ preferences for the general election, approval of President Obama, and economic confidence on a daily basis between now and the election, and provide periodic updates of Americans’ predictions of whether Obama or Romney will win the election.
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Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted May 10-13, 2012, with a random sample of 1,012 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
Results for presidential vote preference are based on interviews conducted May 8-14, 2012 on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with 3,146 registered voters, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on this sample of registered voters, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±2 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.