Obama Leads Romney in Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin in Poll

President Barack Obama leads Republican challenger Mitt Romney in Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin, while likely voters in all three swing states oppose Republican efforts to end traditional Medicare, a poll found.

The telephone survey by Quinnipiac University, CBS News and the New York Times shows Obama maintaining his advantage in these states, compared with a poll released at the start of the month, though Romney has narrowed the gap in two of the three.

In Florida, Obama led 49 percent to 46 percent, down from 51 percent to 45 percent on Aug. 1; in Wisconsin, home of Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, Obama’s lead was 49 percent to 47 percent, down from 51 percent to 45 percent on Aug. 8; and in Ohio, the incumbent maintained the same 50 percent to 44 percent advantage he held on Aug. 1.

The three states are among those where both major-party candidates will focus their attention and resources through Election Day. The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.

Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Hamden, Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said the selection of Ryan, a U.S. representative from Wisconsin, “has made some small difference in Florida and Wisconsin, at least at this point.”

Advantage Among Women

In the poll, conducted Aug. 15-21, Obama had a 12-point advantage among female voters in Florida, a 13-point edge in Ohio and nine points in Wisconsin. Romney led among men by six points in Florida, two in Ohio and five in Wisconsin.

The last three days of the polling period included the controversy over the Aug. 19 comments by Missouri Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin that “legitimate rape” rarely leads to pregnancy. Ryan has co-sponsored 38 anti-abortion measures in the House, a position that tracks Akin’s. Two of those bills would have restricted the definition of rape to “forcible rape” before federal funds could be spent on abortion; that term was later removed from the legislation.

Ryan is the author of a plan, passed twice by House Republicans, to end Medicare’s unlimited fee-for-service program and instead provide vouchers to the elderly to purchase private insurance or allow them to remain in a government-run program with spending caps. The plan relies on competition among private insurers to hold down health-care costs.

Current Medicare Plan

The current system would remain for everyone currently participating in it, and everyone at least 55 years old now would receive the traditional fee-for-service program with no caps on expenditures when they turn 65, under Ryan’s plan.

Ryan’s Medicare proposal was part of a budget bill that would cut government spending by more than $5 trillion, reduce taxes for high earners and balance the budget in 2040.

Three-fourths of voters in all three states said Medicare is worth the cost, and 62 percent in Florida, 64 percent in Ohio and 59 percent in Wisconsin said the program should remain as is.

In addition, more than eight of 10 voters said that Medicare spending should be cut slightly or not at all to reduce the federal budget deficit. Only 10 percent of voters supported major reductions in the health-care program for the elderly.

Florida voters said Obama would do a better job on Medicare by 50 percent to 42 percent. In Ohio, his advantage was 51 percent to 41 percent, and in Wisconsin, 51 percent said the incumbent would do a better job, compared with 42 percent who chose Romney.

“Obama is the clear favorite in handling health care and Medicare,” Brown said.

Obama’s health-care law, the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, cuts the projected future costs of Medicare by $700 billion by reducing payments to hospitals and to private insurance companies offering more expensive Medicare Advantage programs. It doesn’t cut benefits to older Americans, who also get help paying for prescription drugs under the law. Romney and Ryan have vowed to repeal the legislation.

Quinnipiac surveyed 1,241 likely voters in Florida, 1,253 likely voters in Ohio and 1,190 likely voters in Wisconsin.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan D. Salant in Washington at jsalant@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at jcummings21@bloomberg.net.

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