AP image of President Obama and Mitt Romney
WASHINGTON (Detroit Free Press) -- President Obama is holding a six percentage point lead over Republican rival Mitt Romney less than a week before Tuesday's election, a Detroit Free Press/WXYZ-TV poll shows.
The results show Obama with a larger lead than recent polls and gaining momentum even as a WZZM-TV/Detroit News/WDIV-TV poll released Wednesday showed a tighter race.
The new EPIC-MRA poll for the Free Press, WXYZ and several outstate television stations shows Obama leading Romney 48% to 42%, up from a 3-percentage point lead for the president just after the first debate, when Romney surged and Obama's support faded after his weak performance. A total of 10% of respondents said they were undecided or would vote for third-party candidates.
For the poll, EPIC-MRA called 600 likely Michigan voters - 20% of whom used cell phones, to get a more representative sample - from last Friday through Monday of this week. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
"I think the auto issue ... that has solidified things for Obama," said EPIC-MRA pollster Bernie Porn, referring to the 2009 investment and structured bankruptcy of General Motors and Chrysler which was led by the administration and is widely credited with helping both automakers return to profitability. In recent days, Romney - who said in 2008 he would have limited government help for the companies - has suggested in radio and TV spots in Ohio that the rescue did more for jobs in China than the U.S., despite the creation of thousands of jobs in Michigan and across the country.
The Obama campaign was expected to begin airing its first Michigan ad in months soon. A Super PAC advocating for Romney is also running a Michigan ad, though it does not mention the auto industry.
Half of those polled said the rescue of GM and Chrysler was a deciding factor in their support - and of those, nearly two-thirds backed Obama. Among the slightly less than half that said it wasn't a deciding factor, Romney had the edge, but by less -- 56% to 33%. Meanwhile, the number of Michigan voters giving Obama favorable marks rose 4 percentage points to 55% from the early October survey; Romney's remained constant at 45%.
"I think that Michigan will come through for Obama somewhere in the 51%, 52% range," said Porn. "That's not near what he ran in 2008 (when Obama won the state by 16 points) but I think that's where it will end up."
There was some good news in the poll for Romney, though. Three-quarters of the former Massachusetts governor's supporters considered themselves enthusiastic - about the same as the number for Obama. And while Obama got higher marks on issues such as protecting Social Security and Medicare, making health care available to everyone and handling the war in Afghanistan, Romney, who made a fortune in private equity and venture capital, slightly topped the president - 46% to 44% - on what may be the central issue of the campaign, handling the economy and creating jobs.
He was also seen by 48% as better equipped to deal with the federal deficit, compared to 40% for Obama.
"The way I look at it, the United States government is the largest business in the world and it's currently not run very efficiently and it hasn't been for years," said John Baker, 61, a remodeling contractor who lives outside Leonard in northern Oakland County. "Gov. Romney with his business experience, I think, is best equipped."
Romney led among white voters, 48% to 43%, while Obama led 81% to 5% among African-American voters. Among the key bloc of independent voters, Obama held a 42% to 31% edge - though nearly 30% said they would vote for a third-party candidate or remained undecided. That could provide a chance for Romney to cut into Obama's lead, if he can do so effectively by Tuesday.
Obama was effectively tied with Romney among men, 44%-43%, but he more than made up for that with a 51%-41% lead among women.
Barb Sosnowski, a 65-year-old retired emergency room admissions employee and 911 dispatcher in Macomb County, is among the women supporting Obama. She's worried that Romney would rewrite rules for Medicare and health care.
"I'm afraid of what he'd do if he got in there," she said.
Geographically, Romney appears to have the edge where he needs it - in Oakland County - though it may be too little to tilt the state in his favor. The poll showed Oakland County's respondents 46% in favor of Romney compared to 42% for Obama. Meanwhile, Obama had a bigger edge - 46% to 36% in Macomb County and 56% to 29% in Wayne County.
Michigan has not voted for a Republican nominee for president since George H.W. Bush in 1988, but Romney grew up in Bloomfield Hills, the son of a popular three-term Michigan governor and auto executive. He left Michigan decades ago, however, to reside in Boston.
By Todd Spangler, Detroit Free Press Washington staff