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Forward? Voters Don't Think So Posted on August 27, 2012 | Polling Analysis



In his campaign messaging, President Obama claims the mantle of "Forward." But voters fundamentally disagree with that characterization of the country. Only 39 percent of likely voters today say the country is moving forward. That is one reason why the fundamentals of the 2012 election favor Republicans as they gather in Tampa for their quadrennial convention.


That is the conclusion of the latest Resurgent Republic national survey of 1000 likely voters conducted August 16-22, 2012. The survey polled 1000 likely voters nationally, including an oversample to reach a total of 462 voters in twelve battleground states: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin. The sample contains seven percentage points more Democrats than Republicans (Democrats 37 percent, Republicans 30 percent), consistent with other recent national polling.

Key Findings

  1. Economic issues continue to dominate the election, and more than two-thirds of the voters think we are still in a recession.
  2. By margins of at least two-to-one, likely voters think the country's economy, the federal government's financial situation, and the federal government's ability to solve problems are worse than when Obama took office.
  3. American voters favor conservative over liberal definitions of "fairness," and prefer government policies that promote conservative concepts of "opportunity" over liberal concepts of "fairness."
  4. The presidential race remains a dead heat, with 46 percent for Obama/Biden and 45 percent for Romney/Ryan. Romney leads by eight points among Independents (45 to 37 percent), while Obama leads by three points in the twelve battleground states (48 to 45 percent).
  5. President Obama's job approval is an exactly even split (49 approve, 49 disapprove), but a majority disapproves of his handling of the economy (46 approve/51 disapprove).
  6. Voters believe President Obama's economic plan is not working and it is time to try something else.
  7. President Obama's favorable/unfavorable matches his job approval almost exactly (48 favorable/49 unfavorable), and is better than Mitt Romney's (44 favorable/50 unfavorable). But, Romney now has a far better rating among Independents (45 favorable/46 unfavorable) than Obama (39 favorable/55 unfavorable).
  8. Paul Ryan has a net favorable rating, both overall (39 favorable/35 unfavorable) and among Independents (40 favorable/28 unfavorable). But Joe Biden has a net unfavorable overall (42 favorable/47 unfavorable) and among Independents (33 favorable/56 unfavorable).
  9. Ideologically Mitt Romney is viewed where the electorate is – as a center-right candidate. But Barack Obama is viewed as far more liberal than the electorate, outside the ideological mainstream.
  10. Health care reform remains a drag on Obama's reelection prospects, with almost twice as many voters thinking it will hurt rather than help the economy.
  11. A conservative message on protecting and preserving Medicare defeats a liberal message that Republicans want to end Medicare as we know it by five percentage points.
  12. By a large margin, likely voters think regulations have increased under Barack Obama, and that those regulations make it harder to create jobs.
  13. Voters overwhelmingly believe that any tax increase will affect not just the wealthy, but the middle class as well.
  14. Two-thirds of voters think the highest federal income tax rate for families earning more than $250,000 per year should be 30 percent or less – lower than the current rate of 35 percent and the even higher rates proposed by President Obama.
  15. They also think that new revenue from tax increases would go to more spending rather than reducing the deficit.

Forward? Not Really

  1. A majority of voters disagrees with the president's campaign assertion that he is moving the country forward. Fifty-four percent of voters say the country is not moving forward, compared to only 39 percent who say it is. Majorities of Independents (58 percent not moving forward) and battleground-state voters (54 percent not moving forward) disagree with the "Forward" characterization. Voters do not think the country is moving forward because. . .
  2. More than two-thirds of likely voters think the country is still in a recession. Sixty-eight percent say the country is still in a recession, while only 26 percent say it is not. Strong majorities of all partisan groups and battleground-state voters think the country is still in a recession: 85 to 11 percent among Republicans, 69 to 26 percent among Independents, 54 to 40 percent among Democrats, and 67 to 27 percent among battleground-state voters.
  3. Compared to January 2009 when President Obama took office, far more voters think the country is doing worse rather than better on the economy, the federal government's financial situation, the federal government's ability to solve problems, and America's standing in the world. Only on safety from terrorists do voters think we are better off.


    President Obama faces a strong headwind to be reelected in a country where more voters think we are worse off on four of five key measures of progress.

Perspectives on Fairness and Opportunity

As Resurgent Republic first demonstrated last May, 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 a 24-point margin, 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 58 to 34 percent. Overwhelming majorities of Republicans and Independents favor the second definition (67 to 24 percent and 58 to 32 percent, respectively). But in August, unlike May, even Democrats prefer the second definition, 49 to 46 percent. Republicans should welcome a debate over "fairness."

  2. By a 22-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.

    As in May, voters choose conservative opportunity over liberal fairness, this month by 58 to 36 percent. Republicans prefer the conservative opportunity message by 77 to 17 percent, as do Independents by 61 to 34 percent. Democrats prefer liberal fairness by 52 to 40 percent. Expanding opportunity for all rather than mandating economic outcomes remains a winning message for center-right candidates.

Ballot Test and Name IDs

  1. The presidential race remains a dead heat, with 46 percent for Obama/Biden and 45 percent for Romney/Ryan. That compares to an Obama lead of 47 to 45 percent in our July survey. Romney has expanded his lead slightly among Independents from five points in July (45 to 40 percent) to eight points in August (45 to 37 percent). Among battleground-state voters the exact split in July (46 percent each) is now a three-point lead for Obama/Biden (48 to 45 percent). But these changes are margin-of-error shifts consistent with a dead heat race.
  2. By a 22-point margin, Independents think it is time to give someone else a chance to be President, while battleground-state voters split evenly. Only 35 percent of Independents think Obama deserves reelection, while 57 percent want to give someone else a chance. Battleground-state voters split at 48 percent deserves reelection and 47 percent time for someone else.
  3. President Obama's favorable/unfavorable rating matches his job approval almost exactly – the "personal likability" advantage has disappeared. His favorable/unfavorable rating is 48/49, virtually identical to his job approval of 49/49. Consistent with our July survey, the pattern of Obama scoring higher on his favorable rating than his job approval is gone.
  4. Mitt Romney's overall favorable unfavorable rating is worse than Obama's, but his rating among Independents is now substantially better. Romney's overall favorable/unfavorable rating is 44/50. But Romney now has a better rating among Independents (45 favorable/46 unfavorable) than Obama (39 favorable/55 unfavorable), after being very similar in July.
  5. Paul Ryan has a net favorable rating, while Joe Biden is net unfavorable. Paul Ryan is net favorable both overall (39 favorable/35 unfavorable) and among Independents (40 favorable/28 unfavorable). But Joe Biden is net unfavorable overall (42 favorable/47 unfavorable) and among Independents (33 favorable/56 unfavorable).
  6. Independents view Democrats in Congress more negatively than Republicans in Congress. Independents give Democrats in Congress a favorable/unfavorable rating of 28/55 (-27 points) versus 33/48 (-15 points) for Republicans in Congress. Republicans in Congress have a lower overall rating (36/53) than Democrats in Congress (42/48) primarily because the sample contains seven points more Democrats than Republicans.
  7. As was the case in July, 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 31 percent (compared to 34/28 in July).

Ideological Perspectives on Barack Obama and Mitt Romney

Our May survey noted that American voters are center-right, with "somewhat conservative" and "moderate" being the dominant choices for voters rating themselves, and found Mitt Romney to be closer to them when voters were asked about their perceptions of the candidates’ ideologies. Despite the barrage of attacks on Romney, it is President Obama who remains outside the ideological mainstream of the electorate.

  1. Voters still perceive Mitt Romney as "somewhat conservative." When asked how they view Mitt Romney on a five-point scale, 38 percent say he is "somewhat conservative" (compared to 36 percent in May), while 26 percent say he is "very conservative" (up from 17 percent) and 15 percent say he is "moderate," (down from 22 percent).
  2. Voters are just as likely to perceive Barack Obama as "very liberal" now as they were in May. Thirty-nine percent of voters view Barack Obama as "very liberal," and 23 percent view him as "somewhat liberal," for a total of 62 percent who view Obama as a candidate of the left. In May, 36 percent viewed him as "very liberal" and 24 percent viewed him as "somewhat liberal." Moreover, Independent voters today are twice as likely to view Obama as “very liberal” (41 percent) than Romney as "very conservative" (20 percent).
  3. Voters in general, and Independents in particular, identify themselves as "somewhat conservative" or "moderate." Twenty-six percent of voters say they are "somewhat conservative" and 25 percent say they are "moderate," putting voters in solidly center-right position.
  4. Voters perceive themselves closer to Mitt Romney than Barack Obama. Placing voters on a 1 to 5 point scale (with 1 being "very liberal" and 5 representing "very conservative") and comparing them to perceptions of the presidential candidates shows voters are far closer to Mitt Romney. Voters' self-placement puts them at 3.33 on a five-point scale, far closer to Mitt Romney (3.88) than to Barack Obama (2.07), confirming our May finding that it is President Obama who is outside the ideological mainstream.

President Obama's Job Performance

  1. Likely voters now split right down the middle on President Obama's job performance at 49 percent approve and 49 percent disapprove. Republicans and Democrats reflect mirror images, with Republicans overwhelmingly disapproving (8/90) and Democrats overwhelmingly approving (89/10).
  2. Independents disapprove of Obama's job performance, while battleground-state voters now narrowly approve. As was the case in July, Independents disapprove of Obama's job performance by 41 to 57 percent (compared to 43/50 in July). But battleground-state voters rate Obama's job performance slightly higher than they did a month earlier at 51 to 46 percent (compared to 48/49 in July).
  3. On the more important measure of Obama's job performance on the economy, a majority of voters overall and Independents disapprove, while battleground-state voters split evenly. Overall voters disapprove of Obama's economic job performance (46 percent approve/51 percent disapprove), slightly weaker than in July (48 approve/51 disapprove). Independents disapprove as well (37 approve/60 disapprove), even more so than in July (41 approve/56 disapprove). Battleground-state voters split evenly today (49 approve/48 disapprove), somewhat stronger than in July (45 approve/52 disapprove).

Jobs and the Economy

  1. A solid majority of Americans continues to believe that 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.

    Similar to results in May, voters say the president's plan is not working and we need to try something else by 56 to 41 percent. Independents agree with Republicans that the plan is not working – 65 to 31 percent and 94 to 5 percent, respectively – as do battleground voters by 53 to 42 percent. Only Democrats think the plan is working, by 79 to 17 percent.

  2. Voters believe that government regulations have increased during President Obama’s term by a seven-to-one margin, and a majority is concerned that the federal government has too many regulations that make it harder to create jobs. Voters say that government regulations have increased, rather than decreased since President Obama took office by 49 to 7 percent (38 percent say they have stayed the same), including 51 to 6 percent among Independents, 71 to 6 percent among Republicans, and even 30 to 8 percent among Democrats. Battleground voters agree by 50 to 7 percent.

    The increase in regulations is a significant problem for President Obama, because voters are more concerned that "the federal government has too many regulations that make it harder to create jobs" rather than "the federal government has too few regulations to hold private businesses accountable" by 57 to 33 percent, including 60 to 26 percent among Independents, 86 to 13 percent among Republicans, and 52 to 36 percent among battleground voters. Only Democrats disagree, by 57 to 30 percent.

Health Care Reform and Medicare

Heading into the conventions, voters still oppose the health care reform law, with far more voters saying that their costs have gone up rather than down since the law was passed, and saying that the law will hurt the economy by a 20-point margin.

Voters continue to say we need to take steps to save Medicare. When the conservative message on Medicare focuses on the 700 billion dollars cut from Medicare as part of the health care law, it negates the argument that Republicans will end Medicare as we know it.

  1. Nearly two months after the Supreme Court found the health care reform law constitutional, voter attitudes toward the bill are little-changed. Voters oppose the health care law by a 47 to 43 percent margin, virtually identical to the 48 to 43 percent margin seen in our July survey. Independents oppose it by a 54 to 34 percent margin, up slightly from a 50 to 37 percent margin in July.
  2. Voters remain more likely to say their health care costs have increased than decreased since the law passed by an eight-to-one margin. Thirty-nine percent of voters say their costs have increased since the law was passed, while 5 percent say their costs have gone down (51 percent say they have remained the same).
  3. A plurality of voters says the health care reform law will hurt the economy. Voters say the law will hurt rather than help the economy by a 45 to 25 percent margin. The margin is wider among Independents, at 49 to 18 percent. Among the small group of voters undecided in the presidential race, 44 percent say the law will hurt the economy and just 12 percent say it will help.
  4. Voters believe we need to take steps to save Medicare. Half the voters in the survey 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 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 current recipients and future generations.

    By 45 to 40 percent, voters choose the second statement that Medicare requires changes to preserve and protect the program. A majority of Independents (53 to 34 percent) joins Republicans (65 to 24 percent) in taking this view, while Democrats think Republican plans will end Medicare as we know it (62 to 25 percent). Battleground voters agree with the conservative view by a 46 to 39 percent margin.

  5. Republicans achieve a draw on the Medicare issue when focusing on the cuts to Medicare made by Obama and Democrats in the health care law. Keeping the Democratic argument the same, half the voters were asked to choose between these 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 President Obama acknowledged three years ago that Medicare would go bankrupt if no changes were made. But since then he cut 700 billion dollars out of Medicare to fund his new health care law. Obama has made it more difficult to preserve and protect Medicare for current recipients and future generations.

    Voters split evenly when presented these choices, with 40 percent preferring the conservative argument and 41 percent preferring the liberal argument. Again, Independents join Republicans in their preference for the conservative argument, but by a narrow 39 to 37 percent margin (61 to 26 percent among Republicans, while Democrats prefer the liberal argument by a 59 to 23 percent margin).

    Comparing the two conservative messages on Medicare shows that explaining the conservative plan as a choice presented to voters age 55 and under to "preserve and protect Medicare for current recipients and future generations" effectively blunts the charge that "Republicans want to end Medicare as we know it."

Government Taxes and Spending

  1. By a wide margin, voters think that spending less to reduce the deficit should be the higher priority for the federal government right now, and also believe that any new tax revenue would go to more spending, rather than deficit reduction, by more than two-to-one. Voters say that the higher priority for the federal government right now should be "spending less to reduce the budget deficit," rather than "spending more to help the economy recover" by 57 to 36 percent, including margins of 63 to 27 percent among Independents, 78 to 18 percent among Republicans, and 53 to 40 percent among battleground voters. Democrats disagree by 58 to 34 percent.

    Voters also say that if the federal government raises taxes, the new revenue will go primarily to more spending, rather than reducing the deficit, by an overwhelming 62 to 28 percent margin, including 69 to 23 percent among Independents, 83 to 13 percent among Republicans, and 59 to 30 percent among battleground voters. Even Democrats approach a split, saying more revenue will go to deficit reduction by 45 to 41 percent.
  2. Voters overwhelmingly say that a federal tax increase will affect the middle class. Voters believe that a federal government tax increase will affect the wealthy and the middle class, rather than just the wealthy, by 72 to 18 percent, including 79 to 12 percent among Independents, 83 to 11 percent among Republicans, 59 to 28 percent among Democrats, and 73 to 18 percent among battleground voters.
  3. Two-thirds of voters, including three-fifths of Democrats, think that the maximum percentage that the federal government should take in taxes from any family making over $250,000 per year should be lower than the current 35 percent. Sixty-six percent of voters say that the maximum percentage should be 30 percent or less, including 67 percent of Independents, 73 percent of Republicans, 59 percent of Democrats, and 67 percent of battleground voters.
  4. Independents overwhelmingly believe that we need to restrain spending and reform the tax code, rather than raise taxes on the wealthy, to reduce 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.

    Voters overall agree that we will never tax our way out of the deficit by a wide 57 to 37 percent margin, including a similar 55 to 39 percent margin among battleground voters, and overwhelming margins of 62 to 29 percent and 89 to 10 percent among Independents and Republicans, respectively. Only Democrats agree that we need to raise taxes on the wealthy, by 66 to 28 percent.

  5. Independents agree with Republicans in supporting a proposal to cut the corporate income tax from 35 to 25 percent, and offsetting the cost with the eliminations of business tax deductions and credits. Independents and Republicans say this proposal is a good idea by 46 to 37 percent and 47 to 33 percent, respectively, while all voters split at 40 percent and battleground voters split at 41 percent good idea/40 percent bad idea. Democrats say it is a bad idea by 49 to 32 percent.
  6. Overwhelmingly, and across party lines, voters support the federal law that requires welfare recipients to work, search for work, or seek job training. Voters support this law by 79 to 14 percent, including 80 to 12 percent among Independents, 77 to 18 percent among Republicans, 81 to 13 percent among Democrats, and 81 to 12 percent among battleground voters. Moreover, majorities of each group "strongly support" the law.

Energy

  1. Independents continue to believe that 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 clean coal.

    All voters split, saying the President's energy policies have been bad for the country by 47 to 46 percent, as do battleground voters, saying they have been good for the country by 47 to 45 percent. Independents and Republicans say they have been bad by 49 to 40 percent and 88 to 8 percent, respectively. Democrats think they have been good by 82 to 13 percent.

Conclusion

While the presidential race remains a dead heat, the fundamentals of the election give Republicans an edge. The Obama campaign theme, Forward, conflicts with the views of most American voters. They believe our economy, our financial situation, and our ability to solve problems have all gone backward. The challenge facing the president is whether he can persuade a majority of voters to support his reelection at a time when they believe the country has gone backward on his watch.

Methodology

This survey of 1000 likely voters nationally, including an oversample to reach a total of 462 battleground-state voters, was conducted August 16-22, 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 37 percent Democrat, 30 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, ±5.72 percent for Republicans (294 respondents), ±5.72 percent for Independents (294 respondents), ±5.04 percent for Democrats (378 respondents), and ±4.56 percent for battleground-state voters (462 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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