President Obama is collapsing among Independent voters, but this is not an "October Surprise." The rebellion of the center is a fundamental trend of President Obama's four years in office. In our inaugural survey in April 2009, 100 days into President Obama’s time in office, Resurgent Republic noted:
"[Voters] are deeply skeptical about the amount of money Mr. Obama proposes for the government to spend, tax, and borrow for bailouts and other spending programs that produce few private sector jobs. Independents, who hold the balance of power in this electorate, are closer to Republicans than to Democrats on these fiscal issues."
We went on to make the case that "Republicans have far more to work with in the current environment than many suspect" and made the following observation:
"Republicans are on favorable ground resisting the amount of spending, taxing, and borrowing in the President's proposed budget and will draw Independents away from Mr. Obama's camp by doing so."
After that point, the policy and political warning signs became more pronounced. Independent voters took a step away from President Obama and have yet to return. Still the presidential contest is up for grabs due to the incumbent’s slightly higher favorability and job approval ratings in a few battleground states. Even so, Governor Romney now has momentum with swing voters, providing additional evidence that President Obama’s longstanding problem with Independents remains.
Governor Romney is expanding his lead among critically important Independent voters.
Before the presidential debates, Mitt Romney's lead among Independents ranged from 4 to 8 points. Today, Romney has opened a 12-point lead among Independents in our most recent survey released this week (51 to 39 percent). For the first time in our survey, Romney surpassed the 50 percent mark, and just as noteworthy, President Obama has been in the low 40's or high 30's in each monthly survey since August. Governor Romney's lead among Independents today represents a 20-point net swing among this voting bloc compared to 2008.
Independent voters fundamentally oppose giving President Obama four more years.
According to the average of our six surveys since August 2011, Independents believe it's time for someone else to be president by a 20-point margin, 56 to 36 percent. Their verdict on President Obama's time in office has never been in question during the presidential election. Moreover, this sentiment set the context for Governor Romney's game-changing presidential performance during the debates and is the main reason why the race tightened thereafter.
How Independents view President Obama's handling of the economy remains the best predictor of the president's ballot support.
This is a trend Resurgent Republic identified mid-summer and wrote about in a Politico Op-Ed
in September. This pattern remains true in our most recent survey. In fact for the past three months, President Obama's ballot support among Independents has been the exact same percentage as his job performance specifically
on the economy: 37 percent in August, 42 percent in September, and 39 percent in October.
Governor Romney has improved his favorable rating among Independents.
Mitt Romney's image among Independents was trending in the wrong direction according to our July survey. His favorable/unfavorable rating was 42/48, with the number of swing voters saying "very favorable" much smaller than "very unfavorable" (11/25). From May to August President Obama's campaign proved effective in defining Governor Romney as a "wealthy plutocrat married to a known equestrian," as Resurgent Republic Honorary Chairman Governor Haley Barbour noted during our press briefing in August. Since that point, however, swing voters have seen a presidential candidate far different from the negative caricature portrayed in attack ads, in large part due to the Denver presidential debate where Romney came across as a problem-solving candidate prepared to work across the aisle to move the country forward. Independents took notice. In our October survey Romney has a favorable 54/40 image and a positive margin on intensity (26/22).
President Obama is the candidate with the image problem among Independents.
Conventional wisdom that President Obama's personal popularity would buoy his chances among swing voters appears to have fallen short of reality. A majority of Independents hold an unfavorable opinion of the president today (43/53), and when looking at intensity, more Independents hold a "very unfavorable" (40 percent) than "very favorable" view (21 percent).
President Obama has failed to correct his upside-down job performance rating among Independents.
Independents are a step removed from President Obama due to his policies concerning the proper role of government. On health care reform, President Obama pursued a path that cut against the grain of Independents based upon our June 2009 survey. By 61 to 24 percent, Independents said they prefer to get health care coverage through the private marketplace not federal government. Moreover, by 53 to 40 percent, Independents agreed the government is trying to do too many things "that should be left to the private sector and individuals"
rather than the "government should do more to solve problems and help meet the needs of people,"
according to our January 2011 survey.
In August of this year, Independents believed "government policies should promote opportunity by fostering job growth, encouraging entrepreneurs, and allowing hardworking people to keep more of what they earn" as opposed to "government policies should promote fairness by narrowing the gap between the rich and poor, making the rich pay their fair share, and reducing income inequality" by 61 to 34 percent.
Factors like these and many more created a policy divide between President Obama and Independents and took a significant toll on his job approval rating.
Independents intensely disapprove of President Obama’s job performance.
In our October survey, 44 percent of Independents strongly disapprove of the president's job performance. That is the second highest "strongly disapprove" rating in 14 national surveys measuring President Obama's job approval. The highest mark was 47 percent at the time of the midterm elections in November 2010. That is an unwelcome comparison for President Obama supporters this close to Election Day.
On the most important issue of the economy, 6 in 10 Independents disapprove of President Obama's job performance.
When asked which issue will most likely affect their vote for president, 58 percent of Independents prioritize economic issues first, more than 40 points above the next highest category. This issue is the central focus of swing voters and one of President Obama's poorest performing measures due to his spending, taxing, and borrowing policies. In April 2010, 61 percent of Independents said the economic stimulus wasted money instead of creating jobs. One year before the election, Independents agreed the federal government should spend less and reduce the deficit rather than spend more to help the economy by 58 to 35 percent. In August of this year, Independents agreed with the statement "President Obama's economic plan is not working and we need to try something else"
by 65 to 31 percent.
Among Independents, President Obama's problem on the economy is deeply rooted.
Half of all Independent voters strongly disapprove of President Obama's handling of the economy, according to our October survey. This statistic far outweighs any consideration of partisan leaning Independents versus pure Independents. Consider: among Independents who disapprove of the president's job performance on the economy, 82 percent strongly
disapprove. In focus groups conducted earlier this month in Milwaukee and Tampa, we observed another sign this is an entrenched belief. Voters' opinions on the economy did not shift upon learning the unemployment rate dropped below 8 percent. They understand that too many people have accepted part-time work or have stopped searching altogether.
Independents remain highly pessimistic about the direction of the country.
There has been a somewhat positive uptick recently regarding the direction of the country. However, this is due mostly to President Obama consolidating his Democratic base, rather than renewed optimism among Independents. In our October survey, 64 percent of Independents said the country is on the wrong track, a slight decline from July's 67 percent. Over the same time period, Democrats' response to the right direction/wrong track question went from a positive 61/30 in July to an overwhelming 83/12 today.