By James Monteleone / Journal Staff Writer
Copyright © 2012 Albuquerque Journal
The presidential race in New Mexico may be more competitive than national pundits and polls have suggested.
According to a Journal Poll, President Barack Obama appears to have a small lead over Republican Mitt Romney in New Mexico, but Obama has not topped 50 percent, and 8 percent of voters were undecided in a close race with nine weeks remaining.
Obama drew support from 45 percent of the New Mexico voters surveyed between Sept. 3 and Sept. 6, while Romney stayed within striking distance at 40 percent.
Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate for president, who also will be on the Nov. 6 ballot, had 7 percent support. Johnson subtracted almost equal numbers of votes from Obama and Romney, according to the poll, meaning his third-party candidacy was not more damaging to one than the other.
Results of the statewide Journal Poll of likely voters have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.
“When we look at the other polls that have come out over the last number of months, this race seems to be narrowing in New Mexico,” said Journal pollster Brian Sanderoff.
Other recent surveys of the presidential contest in New Mexico by national polling firms found Obama leading Romney by as much as 13 percentage points, causing some political analysts to suggest New Mexico would break in Obama’s favor without much of a campaign in the state.
Sanderoff said the Journal Poll indicates a notable shift in Obama’s strength here.
“Most pundits categorized New Mexico as ‘lean Democrat,’ but we might be moving back to battleground status,” Sanderoff said.
Obama’s strength in New Mexico is with Hispanic voters, according to the Journal Poll.
Obama had 56 percent support among voters identifying themselves as Hispanic. Romney claimed less than half that, with 26 percent. About 12 percent of the Hispanics surveyed were undecided, according to the poll.
Romney took a larger share of voters who identified themselves as Anglo. About 48 percent of Anglos said they would vote for Romney, while 39 percent said they would vote for Obama.
Although national polls have shown Obama with an advantage among female voters, the Journal Poll found that he does not have as much of an edge in New Mexico. Obama was backed by about 46 percent of women in the poll, while Romney had 40 percent.
Romney, however, appeared to have more backing among Democrats than Obama did among Republicans. Fifteen percent of the Democrats said they would likely vote for Romney, while 8 percent of the Republicans said they would vote for Obama.
Because just 32 percent of New Mexico voters are registered Republicans -compared with 48 percent registered Democrats – Romney has to draw votes away from the Democratic base to win in New Mexico, Sanderoff said.
“We see Romney pulling more D’s than Obama is pulling R’s, although that’s not unusual,” Sanderoff said. “That’s essential for a Republican to have a chance.”
Independent voters are a growing category in New Mexico, now accounting for 17 percent of all registered voters. But independents’ spread between Romney and Obama in the Journal Poll was 3 percentage points.
Romney had 38 percent of the independent voters (and a few voters affiliated with minor parties), compared with 35 percent for Obama. Johnson drew 12 percent of independents. Meanwhile, 15 percent of all independent voters were undecided.
The Journal Poll was conducted by Research & Polling Inc. of Albuquerque. The scientific sample is based on land line and cellphone interviews statewide with 667 likely voters. The margin of error for the full, statewide sample is plus or minus 3.8 percentage points. The margin of error grows for subsamples.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal