Recent polls show President Obama enjoying a bounce in the polls following last week's Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C., but buried in those data is good news for Mitt Romney about voter enthusiasm and the preferences of independents, who could decide the election.
The CNN/ORC International poll of registered and likely voters released Tuesday shows likely voters favoring Obama by 52 percent to 46 percent over Romney -- evidence, pundits said, of a post-convention bump for the president.
But a figure buried in the report shows Romney leading Obama among likely independent voters, 54 percent to 40 percent.
Both Democrats and Republicans believe independents will be critical to deciding the outcome of the election, in part because they make up a growing part of the electorate and are considered up for grabs because they fluctuate in their political preferences from one election to the next.
"That's a significant lead," said pollster Ron Faucheux.
It was the independent vote that helped Obama win the 2008 election. He won 52 percent of independents, compared with 44 percent for McCain. Independents comprised about 33 percent of the overall vote in 2008.
"If Romney can beat Obama among independents this time, he can win the election."
A poll conducted two weeks ago by Democracy Corps showed Romney with a 15-point lead among independents, 53 percent to 38 percent.
Romney also appears to have an advantage over Obama when it comes to voter enthusiasm.
The CNN/ORC International poll showed Republicans leading Democrats among the most enthusiastic voters, 62 percent to 56 percent. The enthusiasm level helps determine which party will show up in greater numbers to vote.
"This Republican enthusiasm advantage has manifested itself in an unprecedented and historic grassroots effort that will have a significant impact on turnout in battleground states on Election Day," Romney campaign pollster Neil Newhouse said in a Monday memo aimed at downplaying reports of an Obama bounce.
Several new polls show Obama with a lead among registered voters, although among likely voters, the two candidates are essentially tied.
The RealClearPolitics average for all voters shows Obama with a 3.6-point advantage over Romney, though other polls show that his advantage shrinks among those most likely to vote in November.
Among likely voters sampled in a Washington Post/ABC News poll, Obama holds just a 1-point advantage over Romney. That lead broadens to a 6 points when the sample includes all registered voters.
"I'd pay a lot more attention to the likely voters than the registered voters," Republican pollster Whit Ayres told The Washington Examiner.
The Gallup poll of registered voters "found a bounce" for Obama that appears to have emerged after the convention, said the poll's editor-in-chief, Frank Newport. The poll noted that the 3-point gain for Obama is lower than the typical 5-point boost received by candidates in some past conventions.
"Prior to the Republican convention, we had them tied," Newport said.
Newport said Gallup would soon start tracking likely voters, whose views could shift in the coming weeks as the two candidates face off in three nationally televised debates.