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Electoral Fundamentals Favor Republicans in 2012 Posted on May 10, 2012 | Polling Analysis



Six months before election day, electoral fundamentals favor Republicans according to the latest Resurgent Republic national survey of 1000 registered voters conducted April 30-May 3, 2012. The sample contains five percentage points more Democrats than Republicans (Democrats 35 percent, Republicans 30 percent), consistent with other recent national polling. This national survey builds upon the qualitative research gathered during our recent Target Voter Series, 24 focus groups with Obama Independents undecided today. In particular, those findings provided the framework for our fairness and opportunity questions. In addition, this is the first Resurgent Republic survey since Mitt Romney became the presumptive Republican nominee and the first time we tested Romney by name. These results present a different perspective on the two candidates than much of the political punditry. It is Barack Obama, not Mitt Romney, who is viewed as outside the ideological mainstream. Following are key highlights.

Perspectives on Fairness and Opportunity

American voters' perspective on fairness and opportunity leans right rather than left. A message that directly engages the left on both fairness and opportunity will be very productive for center-right candidates and policies.

  1. By an almost two-to-one margin, American voters favor a conservative over a liberal definition of "fairness." Voters were asked to choose between two statements:

    Fairness is making sure the wealthy pay their fair share by increasing their taxes, eliminating loopholes, and giving up special deductions.

    Fairness is making sure everyone pays their fair share, and no one gets bailouts, preferential treatment, or special favors from political cronies.

    Voters choose the second definition by 60 to 34 percent. On this question as on many others, Independents side with Republicans and against Democrats. Republicans prefer the second definition where everyone pays their fair share by 71 to 23 percent, as do Independents by 63 to 31 percent. Democrats prefer the first definition where the wealthy pay their fair share by 49 to 46 percent. Republicans should welcome a debate over "fairness."

  2. By an 18-point margin, Americans want their government to promote a conservative definition of opportunity over a liberal definition of fairness. Voters were asked to choose between two statements:

    Government policies should promote fairness by narrowing the gap between rich and poor, making the rich pay their fair share, and reducing income inequality.

    Government policies should promote opportunity by fostering job growth, encouraging entrepreneurs, and allowing hardworking people to keep more of what they earn.

    Voters choose conservative opportunity over liberal fairness by 57 to 39 percent. Republicans prefer the conservative opportunity message by 73 to 23 percent, as do Independents by 63 to 32 percent. Democrats prefer liberal fairness by 58 to 38 percent. Ronald Reagan placed great emphasis on expanding opportunity for all, and it remains a winning message decades later.

Ideological Perspectives on Barack Obama and Mitt Romney

This is the first Resurgent Republic survey since Mitt Romney became the presumptive Republican nominee and the first time we tested Romney by name. These results present a different perspective on the two candidates than much of the political punditry. It is Barack Obama, not Mitt Romney, who is viewed as outside the ideological mainstream.

  1. Voters perceive Mitt Romney as "somewhat conservative." When asked how they view Mitt Romney on a five-point scale, 36 percent say he is "somewhat conservative" and 22 percent say he is "moderate," for a total of 58 percent who view Romney as a center-right candidate. Despite recent efforts by the President's campaign to paint Romney as a far-right conservative, only 17 percent of all voters view Romney as "very conservative." Moreover, two-thirds of Independent voters view Romney as a center-right candidate, with 38 percent viewing Romney as somewhat conservative and 27 percent moderate; only 13 percent of Independents view him as very conservative. Democratic efforts to paint Romney as an extreme conservative outside the mainstream face strong headwinds among registered voters.
  2. Voters perceive Barack Obama as "very liberal." After three and a half years in office, 36 percent view Barack Obama as "very liberal," and 24 percent view him as "somewhat liberal," for a total of 60 percent who view Obama as a candidate of the left. Only 22 percent view Obama as "moderate." Independent voters follow the overall view, with 37 percent viewing Obama as very liberal, 26 percent somewhat liberal, and 21 percent moderate.
  3. Voters in general, and Independents in particular, view themselves as "somewhat conservative" or "moderate." This question reinforces the widespread view that America is a center-right country. Twenty-seven percent of voters (and 32 percent of Independents) view themselves as "somewhat conservative." Twenty-five percent of voters (and 32 percent of Independents) view themselves as "moderate."
  4. Voters view Barack Obama, not Mitt Romney, as outside the ideological mainstream of the American electorate. Only 8 percent of American voters consider themselves to be "very liberal," the dominant perception of Barack Obama. On the other hand, the dominant perception voters have of themselves is "somewhat conservative," exactly the same as the perception of Mitt Romney. Among Independent voters, fewer than one-third (29 percent) view Barack Obama as "moderate" or "somewhat conservative," yet nearly two-thirds (64 percent) view themselves that way. Independents view themselves ideologically as almost identical to Mitt Romney (65 percent view Romney as "moderate" or "somewhat conservative"). As the presidential race enters the general election phase, Mitt Romney is far closer to American voters ideologically than Barack Obama, especially among critical Independent voters.

The Economy

  1. Almost three-fourths of voters think we are still in a recession. Voters say America is still in a recession by 72 to 24 percent. Agreement crosses partisan lines, with 84 percent of Republicans, 75 percent of Independents, and 59 percent of Democrats saying the country is still in a recession.
  2. Three-fourths of voters say their family's financial situation is no better off than four years ago. Thirty-nine percent of voters say they are worse off, 36 percent say they are about the same, and only 25 percent say they are better off than four years ago. When three-quarters of American voters say they are no better off than when President Obama took office, it creates a high hill for him to climb for reelection.
  3. Seventy percent say the economy is staying the same or getting worse. A majority – 51 percent--says the economy is staying the same, including 56 percent of Republicans and 55 percent of Independents, while 19 percent say it is getting worse. Only 30 percent say it is getting better, and that number is driven by Democrats – 48 percent of Democrats say the economy is getting better, but only 25 percent of Independents and 15 percent of Republicans agree.
  4. Three-fifths of voters still think the country is off on the wrong track. Sixty percent think America is off on the wrong track, and only 33 percent think it is going the right direction. Overwhelming majorities of Republicans (86 percent) and Independents (69 percent) think the country is on the wrong track. Only Democrats (by 59 to 31 percent) think the country is going the right direction.
  5. A solid majority of Americans thinks President Obama's economic plan is not working, and "we need to try something else." Voters were asked to choose between two statements:

    Congressman A says President Obama's economic plan is working and we need to stay the course. Unemployment is going down, more jobs are being created, we've taken steps to reduce the deficit, and economic conditions are improving for most of the country.

    Congressman B says President Obama's economic plan is not working and we need to try something else. Unemployment remains at record levels, job creation is poor, federal spending is out of control, and much of the country is still in recession.

    By 55 to 40 percent, voters say the President's plan is not working and we need to try something else. Independents agree with Republicans that the plan is not working – 63 to 32 percent and 87 to 10 percent respectively. Only Democrats think the plan is working, by 76 to 19 percent.

  6. Economic issues like jobs and unemployment remain the overwhelming concern of voters, followed by fiscal issues like taxes, spending, deficits, and debt. Economic issues dominate among all three partisan groups: 46 percent for Republicans, 53 percent for Independents, and 62 percent for Democrats. Fiscal issues form a strong second tier, especially for Republicans at 29 percent and Independents at 24 percent. Social issues like abortion and gay marriage come in third at 13 percent, followed by national security issues at 6 percent.
  7. Voters continue to rate the President's handling of the economy negatively. While President Obama's overall job approval is barely in positive territory at 50 percent approve/46 percent disapprove, his rating on handling the economy is a mirror image: 46 percent approve and 50 percent disapprove. While Democrats overwhelmingly approve of his handling of the economy by 84 to 13 percent, Republicans and Independents overwhelmingly disapprove by 86 to 13 percent and 59 to 38 percent respectively.

    Collectively these perspectives create a substantial hill for the President to climb for reelection. When an overwhelming majority of voters think we are still in a recession, say their family is no better off than four years ago, think the economy is not getting better, say the country is on the wrong track, think the President's economic plan is not working, and give a negative rating to his handling of the most important issue facing the country, President Obama cannot win a referendum on his leadership and his record.

Tax Increases and the Deficit

  1. A majority of voters do not think we can tax our way out of the deficit. Voters were asked to choose between two statements:

    Congressman A says we need to raise taxes on the wealthy. We must have more tax revenue if we are ever going to reduce the deficit and make the wealthy pay their fair share.

    Congressman B says we will never tax our way out of the deficit. The way to reduce the deficit is to restrain government spending and reform our tax code to generate more economic growth.

    By a margin of 52 to 40 percent, Americans do not believe we can tax our way out of the deficit, with Republicans agreeing by 63 to 31 percent and Independents agreeing by 54 to 40 percent. Only Democrats think raising taxes on the wealthy is critical to reduce the deficit, 50 to 42 percent.

  2. A plurality is skeptical of the benefit of raising capital gains taxes. Voters were asked to choose between two statements:

    Congressman A says we should raise taxes on capital gains for the wealthy, regardless of whether or not it will increase revenue for the government, because we need to ensure fairness.

    Congressman B says it makes no sense to raise capital gains taxes since it will reduce revenue for the government. That would increase the deficit and hurt economic growth.

    By 47 to 43 percent, a plurality opposes raising capital gains taxes if it will not lead to increased revenue, including 58 to 33 percent among Republicans and 49 to 44 percent among Independents. Democrats want to raise capital gains taxes regardless of its effect on revenue by 50 to 39 percent.

  3. One reason for those beliefs is that most Americans think raising taxes will just lead to more spending rather than deficit reduction. If the federal government raises taxes, 64 percent think the new revenue will go primarily to more spending, and 28 percent think it will go primarily to reducing the deficit. That belief cuts across partisan lines: Republicans think more revenue will lead to more spending by 76 to 18 percent, as do Independents by 73 to 22 percent and Democrats by 47 to 42 percent.
  4. Another reason for those beliefs is that most Americans do not buy into class warfare arguments about the wealthy. Fifty percent of voters think "most millionaires in this country became wealthy by working hard and playing by the rules," while 40 percent think they became wealthy "by taking advantage of the system." Republicans and Independents think most millionaires succeed through hard work by 68 to 24 percent and 54 to 38 percent respectively, while Democrats think the wealthy succeed by taking advantage of the system by 56 to 32 percent.

Energy

  1. By a 17-point margin, Independents think President Obama's energy policies have been bad for the country. Voters were asked to choose between two statements:

    Congressman A says President Obama's energy policies have been good for the country. He has increased domestic oil production, while steering the country toward greater reliance on renewable sources of energy like solar and wind to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

    Congressman B says President Obama's energy policies have been bad for the country. They have caused gasoline prices to double since he became President, he blocked the Keystone pipeline, and he supported new regulations that make it more difficult and expensive to produce domestic energy like oil and coal.

    Voters overall say the President's energy policies have been bad for the country by 49 to 44 percent. Republicans and Independents overwhelmingly think they have been bad by 79 to 14 percent and 55 to 38 percent respectively. Democrats think they have been good by 76 to 18 percent. The combination of gas prices, new regulations, and the Keystone decision create a significant vulnerability for the President.

Entitlements

As Resurgent Republic has demonstrated in past surveys, reforming entitlements should be justified by the need to protect and preserve important programs, not by the need to balance the budget or promote fiscal responsibility.

  1. By an 8-point margin, voters believe we need to take steps to save Medicare. Voters were asked to choose between two statements:

    Congressman A says we should not balance the budget on the backs of our seniors. We need to cut back spending, but Medicare should be off limits. Republican plans to privatize Medicare are a Trojan Horse that will end Medicare as we know it.

    Congressman B says the Medicare trustees have declared that Medicare will go broke if we do nothing because of all the retiring baby boomers. By giving people age 55 and under the choice of joining traditional Medicare or using Medicare dollars to buy a private health insurance plan, we can preserve and protect this important program for future generations.

    By 48 to 40 percent, voters choose the second statement that Medicare requires changes to preserve and protect the program. Republicans believe changes are necessary by 52 to 34 percent, as do Independents by 48 to 41 percent. Democrats split evenly between the two statements at 44 percent each.

Name IDs and Ballot Tests

  1. Barack Obama is viewed somewhat more favorably than Mitt Romney overall, primarily because of Obama's sky-high rating among Democrats. Obama's favorable/unfavorable rating among all voters is 50/45 percent, including 88/9 percent among Democrats and 14/83 percent among Republicans. Mitt Romney's rating is 41/45 percent overall, including 72/18 percent among Republicans and 13/71 percent among Democrats.
  2. Independents view Barack Obama more negatively than Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney's favorable/unfavorable rating among Independents is 43/42 percent, compared to 44/50 percent for Barack Obama. Based on their current perceptions, Obama faces more of an uphill climb than Romney among Independent voters.
  3. Independents hold an equally negative view of Republicans and Democrats in Congress. Predictably Republican and Democratic voters give high marks to representatives of their own party in Congress--the favorable/unfavorable ratings are 69/23 percent for Republican voters' perception of Republicans in Congress and 76/19 percent for Democratic voters' perception of Democrats in Congress. It will come as no surprise that Independent voters dislike both--their ratings are 32/56 percent for Republicans in Congress and 30/58 percent for Democrats in Congress.
  4. Independents favor Republicans over Democrats on the generic ballot for Congress. Independents say they prefer the Republican candidate over the Democratic candidate for Congress by 38 to 32 percent.
  5. Barack Obama leads Mitt Romney by single digits on the ballot test, driven by greater Democratic than Republican consolidation around the respective nominees at this point. Obama leads Romney overall by 49 to 42 percent, but Independents favor Romney by 45 to 41 percent. Obama's lead comes from the five points more Democrats than Republicans in the sample, coupled with Obama taking 90 percent of the Democratic vote and Romney taking 84 percent of the Republican vote. Based on 2008 exit polls where 89 percent of Democrats backed Obama and 90 percent of Republicans backed John McCain, that partisan differential in support for their respective nominees is likely to evaporate by Election Day.
  6. Six months from Election Day, Republicans indicate more interest in the election than Democrats or Independents. Seventy-eight percent of Republicans say they are "absolutely certain" to vote in the fall election, compared to 72 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of Independents.

Conclusion

American voters' top priority remains the economy, and they overwhelmingly believe the country is stuck in a recession, President Obama's economic plan is not working, and that it's time to try something else. President Obama has spent much of 2012 talking about fairness, but center-right candidates should not shy away from this debate either, especially with Independents who prefer conservative definitions of fairness and opportunity. In addition, a wide majority of Independents believe President Obama's energy polices have been bad for the country. The fact that much of the President's early re-election messaging has centered on energy is a tacit acknowledgement of the potency of this issue in 2012.

We will see how voters' views change over the six months leading up to the 2012 election, but as of today President Obama could not win a referendum on his leadership and his record.

Methodology

This survey of 1000 registered voters was conducted April 30 to May 3, 2012. Respondents were selected randomly from a random-digit-dialing sample including both cellular and landline telephone numbers, and were contacted by live interviewers. All respondents confirmed that they are registered to vote in the county in which they live. Quotas were set for state, age, and race based on state registration and previous turnout. By party the sample is 35 percent Democrat, 31 percent Independent, and 30 percent Republican.

The margins of error for responses with an even split – 50 percent for one response and 50 percent for another response – are ±3.10 percent for the full sample, ±5.69 percent for Republicans (297 respondents), ±5.55 percent for Independents (312 respondents), and ±5.28 percent for Democrats (345 respondents). The margin of error is smaller when one response receives a higher level of support. For example, the margin of error is ±2.68 percent when 75 percent of respondents in the full sample choose one response and 25 percent choose another response.

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