The improving economy and a diminishing GOP brand are boosting President Barack Obama and hamstringing his Republican rivals in the must-win swing states of Florida and Ohio.
Obama edges Mitt Romney by a 49-42 percent margin in Florida and has a slightly smaller 6 percentage point lead over the Republican in Ohio, a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday shows.
Obama's leads in each state are outside the poll's 2.8 percentage-point error margin, meaning he has a statistically significant advantage in the nation's two largest up-for-grabs states.
"If history repeats itself, that means he would be re-elected," Peter A. Brown, assistant director of Quinnipiac's Polling Institute, said in a written statement. "But the election is not today. It is seven months away. Two months ago President Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney were in a statistical tie in Ohio and Florida."
Romney is narrowly viewed overall as the better candidate than Obama to fix the economy.
But the poll suggests that the Republican is suffering from a loss of female support in the wake of divisive fights over abortion and contraception that have tarnished the GOP brand. Also, the bruising GOP primary has chipped away at Romney's favorability ratings.
Obama's narrow advantage takes on added significance because it shows he's gaining momentum.
Compared to a Quinnipiac poll at the height of the Florida GOP primary in January, Obama has gotten stronger and Romney weaker as the bottom-line poll numbers have shifted 6 percentage points toward the president.
Obama's support among women is 52 percent compared to Romney's 38 percent. That's a 9 percentage-point shift in Obama's favor in three months.
Obama is also winning the other key demographic: independents (49 percent support him compared to 39 who favor Romney). That's a 10-percentage-point shift in Obama's favor.
And a majority of Florida voters say Obama should be re-elected, while 47 percent say he shouldn't be. That's an 11-percentage-point shift in Obama's direction in three months.
Brown ties Obama's improving poll numbers to the economy, which is showing signs of life. Generally, the poll numbers in all three states were similar and showed Obama gaining ground.
In Florida, 57 percent of voters believe the economy is improving, though an even bigger percentage believes it's still essentially in a recession.
Obama is also avoiding blame for high gas prices, which voters are far more likely to blame on oil companies and oil-producing nations. A majority of voters, though, blame "environmental regulations" for high gas prices.
A majority of Florida voters, 51 percent, have a favorable opinion of Obama. But nearly as many, 44 percent, have an unfavorable view of the president. When it comes to Romney, 41 percent approve and 36 percent disapprove. That's a 13-percentage-point shift away from Romney, who's growing less popular.
The big difference between the two candidates: about 19 percent of voters say they haven't heard enough about Romney, while just 2 percent say that about Obama.
In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott is little help to the Republican ticket, with 52 percent disapproving of his job performance and only 36 percent approving.
Also weighing on Romney is the damage to the Republican brand. Exactly half of Florida voters have an unfavorable view of the Republican Party, while 39 percent have a favorable view. Democrats are viewed as slightly better, with 45 percent holding a favorable opinion of the party and 45 percent an unfavorable view.
Those aren't numbers to boast about for Democrats — but they're still better than the Republican numbers.
When it comes to issues important to women, Republicans start to suffer badly. Only 28 percent in Florida say they trust Republicans to do a better job; 58 percent trust Democrats. This large, double-digit advantage in the Democrats' favor repeated itself when voters were polled about "reproductive health issues," birth control and abortion.
Those issues were nevertheless viewed as less important than the economy, jobs, immigration and health care. The latter issue wasn't polled by Quinnipiac. Most nationwide polls show Obama's health care law is unpopular with voters — either because it goes too far or doesn't go far enough.
Obama has also managed an unpopular war in Afghanistan without suffering in public-opinion surveys. In Florida, 66 percent want to withdraw from Afghanistan, but 53 percent approve of Obama's handling of the war. A plurality say Obama is handling the withdrawal of troops "about right."