Voters Believe America is Worse Off Than When Obama Took Office Posted on November 8, 2011 | Polling Analysis

Resurgent Republic conducted its latest survey of 1000 American voters October 30 through November 2, 2011, with full results available below. Following are key highlights.

The 2012 Presidential Campaign

  1. If President Obama's reelection campaign is a referendum on the incumbent, as are almost all reelection campaigns, then he remains in deep trouble a year out from the election, because Americansbelieve the country is worse off than when he was inaugurated.

    When evaluating the condition of the country, today a majority of American voters:
    • Thinks the country is on the wrong track (70 percent), the highest wrong track number Resurgent Republic has recorded since our first survey in April 2009.
    • Thinks the federal government's financial situation is worse (67 percent) than when Obama took office;
    • Thinks the American economy is worse (61 percent);
    • Thinks the federal government's ability to solve problems is worse (60 percent);
    • Thinks America's standing in the world is worse (50 percent).

    The only measure on which Americans believe the country is better off is safety from terrorists, where 39 percent say we are better, 38 percent the same, and 20 percent worse.

  2. Because Americans believe the country has declined on Obama's watch, his reelection numbers are stuck in the low 40s.
    • Only 42 percent of American voters think Obama deserves reelection, while a majority – 51 percent – thinks it is time for someone else. Those numbers are essentially unchanged from our August survey, which shows 42 percent deserves reelection/52 percent time for someone else.
    • Only one-third of Independent voters say Obama deserves reelection: 33 percent deserves reelection/54 percent time for someone else.
    • When pitted against a generic Republican candidate, Obama stands at 42 percent versus 43 percent for the Republican, essentially unchanged from our 43/43 finding in August, and weaker than our 43/40 finding last January. Past elections show that undecided voters are very unlikely to break in favor of the incumbent.
    • Independent voters prefer the Republican candidate over Obama by a double-digit margin – 43 to 32 percent.
  3. A majority of voters in swing states says it is time for someone else to be President. We have defined swing states here as eight states that voted for Bush in 2004 and Obama in 2008 (CO, FL, IA, NC, NM, NV, OH, VA), plus four other states whose 2010 Republican victories make them fertile ground for a Republican presidential nominee (MI, NH, PA, WI). In those 12 states:
    • A majority of voters, 53 percent, thinks it is time for someone else to be President; only 40 percent think Obama deserves reelection.
    • Independents in those states overwhelmingly think it is time for someone else, 61 percent; only 28 percent think he deserves reelection.
  4. Key portions of the Obama 2008 coalition have soured on the President. 
    • While households with public sector union members continue to believe that Obama deserves reelection by 52 to 39 percent, a majority of private sector union households thinks it is time for someone else – 52 to 43 percent. That is not far from the result among non-union households who want someone else to be President, 53 to 40 percent. In 2008 exit polls showed that union member households voted for Obama over McCain by 59 to 39 percent.
    • Younger voters age 18 to 34 years old prefer the Republican candidate over Obama by 45 to 36 percent. A majority of younger voters – 54 percent – wants someone else to be President; only 36 percent say Obama deserves reelection. While the age breaks are not exactly comparable, those results stand in stark contrast to the 2008 election, where exit polls showed younger voters age 18 to 29 voted for Obama over McCain by 66 to 32 percent.
    • As shown in Resurgent Republic's September surveys in Florida, Colorado, and New Mexico, Obama is underperforming among Hispanic voters. While he carried the Hispanic vote by 67 to 31 percent in 2008, Obama is below 50 percent on two key reelection measures today. Fewer than half of Hispanic voters prefer Obama over a Republican alternative, 48 to 35 percent. Moreover, they split evenly on whether Obama deserves reelection: 47 percent deserves reelection, 47 percent time for someone else.
  5. Voters split on Obama's job approval overall, with intensity on the side of disapproval, and they overwhelmingly disapprove of his handling of the economy.
    • Overall 50 percent approve of his job performance, a three-point increase since August, but Republicans and Independents remain very negative. Approve/disapprove ratings are 13/85 among Republicans and 43/53 among Independents. Only Democrats approve at 88/9.
    • After a resounding defeat in 2010 and reenergized efforts to win back the center, Obama's standing with Independents has deteriorated over the course of the year. In the January 2011 Resurgent Republic survey, Independents split evenly on Obama's job approval/disapproval at 47/47, versus 43/53 today.
    • Voters disapprove of Obama's handling of the economy: 43 percent approve and 54 percent disapprove. Once again Republicans and Independents are very negative: 12/88 among Republicans and 35/62 among Independents. Only Democrats remain positive at 78/18.
    • Intensity is on the negative side on both questions. On overall job performance, 26 percent strongly approve while 36 percent strongly disapprove. On the economy, 20 percent strongly approve and 42 percent strongly disapprove. Tellingly, among Independent voters strong disapproval on Obama's economic performance outweighs strong approval by almost four-to-one: 12 percent strongly approve and 45 percent strongly disapprove.
  6. Republicans and Independents think Barack Obama and the Democrats control Washington, while Democrats think Republicans in Congress are in control. In yet another indicator of the low esteem with which Washington is held in the country, each party views the other one as in control. Republicans view Obama and the Democrats as controlling Washington by 67 to 15 percent, while Democrats view Republicans as in control by 55 to 26 percent. Independents split more evenly, but still view Obama/Democrats in control by 39 to 34 percent.
  7. Democrats see Obama as "an outsider trying to change the way Washington works," while Republicans and Independents split evenly on whether he is an outsider or "an insider who is part of the way Washington works." Democrats say he is an outsider over an insider by 59 to 31 percent, while Republicans split 44 to 46 percent, as do Independents at 45 to 44 percent.
  8. Democrats see Obama as more interested in "working with Republicans to get things done," while Independents agree with Republicans that he is more interested in "campaigning against Republicans in Congress to win reelection." Democrats say he is interested in working across the aisle to get things done by 72 to 18 percent, but Republicans and Independents think he is campaigning against Republicans for reelection by 80 to 17 percent and 53 to 37 percent, respectively.


Jobs, the Economy, and Government Regulations

  1. A plurality of American voters thinks government regulations have increased since Obama took office, which is a problem because twice as many voters are more concerned that the federal government has too many than too few regulations. Forty-five percent think government regulations have increased, 42 percent think they are about the same, and only 7 percent think they have decreased. But by a two-to-one margin (59 to 30 percent), they 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."
  2. When presented with arguments for and against Obama's jobs bill, Republicans strongly oppose it, Democrats strongly favor it, and Independents split down the middle. The survey presented two options:

    Congressman A says that Congress needs to pass President Obama's jobs bill. This funding would keep teachers in the classroom, police and firefighters on the job, and help repair our crumbling infrastructure.

    Congressman B says that Congress should not pass President Obama's jobs bill. This is exactly like the first Obama stimulus bill that did not work, adding nearly a trillion dollars to the deficit while the unemployment rate went up.

    Republicans oppose the jobs bill 70 to 24 percent, Democrats support it 78 to 18 percent, and Independents split 45 percent for and 47 percent against.
  3. Independents side with Republicans in opposing Obama's mortgage proposal, while Democrats support it.

    Congressman A says President Obama's mortgage proposal is a good idea. We should make it easier for borrowers whose homes are worth less than their mortgages to stay in their homes, and the looming threat of foreclosures is holding back our economy.

    Congressman B says President Obama's mortgage proposal is a bad idea. Giving mortgages to people who couldn't afford them is exactly what caused the housing bubble and the financial crisis in the first place. The government should not use taxpayer dollars to help people pay for houses they can't afford.

    Republicans and Independents both think Obama's mortgage proposal is a bad idea, by 70 to 23 percent and 52 to 38 percent, respectively. Democrats think it is a good idea by 64 to 27 percent.

Government Taxes and Spending

  1. As shown repeatedly in past Resurgent Republic surveys, a majority of Americans continues to believe that the federal government should be "spending less to reduce the deficit" rather than "spending more to help the economy recover." Voters overall want the federal government to spend less by 54 to 40 percent, including Republicans by 78 to 20 percent and Independents by 58 to 35 percent. Only Democrats want to spend more, by 63 to 30 percent.
  2. Americans are wary of cuts in defense spending.

    Congressman A says cutting the defense budget along with domestic spending is necessary given our debt crisis. There is wasteful spending in the military, and it is time to cut back our military presence overseas.

    Congressman B says cutting the defense budget is a mistake. Providing a strong national defense is the most important function of the federal government, and we need to be sure our military has all the resources it needs in a dangerous world.

    A majority of Americans supports the argument against defense cuts, 52 to 42 percent. Republicans and Independents oppose defense cuts by 69 to 27 percent and 54 to 40 percent, respectively. Democrats want to cut the defense budget by 57 to 35 percent.

  3. Neither conservative response tested opposing all tax increases defeats the liberal call for a "balanced approach" that has everyone paying "their fair share." The survey phrased the call for tax increases as:

    Congressman A says that Congress needs to take a balanced approach to our debt problem by raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations. They should pay their fair share by giving up tax breaks and special deductions.

    The survey tested two options in response, with the first phrased as:

    Congressman B says this is the wrong time to raise taxes on anyone. Higher taxes mean more money going to the government, and less money in the economy that businesses can use to hire workers and create new jobs.

    With that formulation, the argument for higher taxes leads the argument against tax increases by 54 to 42 percent, including Democrats at 71 to 26 percent and Independents at 53 to 44 percent. Republicans oppose tax increases by 60 to 38 percent.

    The other response was:

    Congressman B says this is the wrong time to raise taxes on anyone. The top ten percent of earners already pay over two-thirds of all federal income taxes, while nearly half of Americans pay no federal income tax, and U.S. companies pay a thirty-five percent tax rate, more than most European countries.

    The second response does somewhat better than the first, but only marginally. With that formulation, the argument for higher taxes leads the argument against tax increases by 53 to 43 percent, with Democrats at 74 to 25 percent and Independents at 48 to 46 percent. Republicans oppose raising taxes by 59 to 38 percent.

Health Care Reform

Health care reform, or "ObamaCare" to its critics, remains an albatross around the neck of the Obama Administration. Despite the hopes of its proponents, the health care reform plan is as unpopular today as when it was passed.

  1. A plurality of Americans opposes the health care reform plan passed last year, and Independents oppose it by a 20-point margin. Tested without referencing President Obama or Democrats who controlled Congress at the time, voters overall oppose the plan passed by 48 to 41 percent, with intensity on the side of the opposition – 38 percent strongly oppose versus 24 percent strongly support. Republicans oppose the plan by 81 to 13 percent, as do Independents by 54 to 34 percent. Only Democrats support it by 72 to 13 percent. People who are undecided on the Obama/Republican candidate presidential ballot oppose the health care reform plan by 50 to 34 percent.
  2. Even when presented with arguments for and against the reform plan, more Americans think the plan has been bad rather than good for America.

    Congressman A says that health care reform has been good for America. It has provided health insurance to those who didn't have it, is controlling health care costs, and holding the insurance companies accountable.

    Congressman B says that ObamaCare has been bad for America. It is raising health care costs, cut $500 billion from Medicare, and injected government bureaucrats into health care decisions.

    With that formulation, voters oppose health care reform 49 to 44 percent, including majorities of Republicans (73 to 23 percent) and Independents (54 to 39 percent). A majority of Democrats supports it (68 to 24 percent).

  3. One reason for continuing opposition to health care reform is that a majority of Americans thinks their health care costs have gone up since the plan was enacted. Polling before health care reform was passed clearly showed that Americans' highest health care priority was controlling spiraling health care costs. Yet so far they believe health care reform has failed in that regard. Fifty percent say their own health care costs are going up, 43 percent say staying the same, and only 2 percent say their health care costs are going down.


Afghanistan and Iraq

Americans are clearly weary of our military involvement in both Afghanistan and Iraq, although they are more evenly split on Iraq.

  1. A majority is ready to bring our troops home from Afghanistan.

    Congressman A says after ten years in Afghanistan, it is time to bring our troops home. Osama bin Laden is dead and the Taliban is scattered, and the United States cannot be expected to be a permanent traffic cop in a country dominated by competing tribal interests.

    Congressman B says there is still important work for our country to do in Afghanistan. We have sacrificed American money and lives in making sure the country is secure, and it is in our national interest to stay for as long as the Taliban and al Qaeda remain a threat, since the 9/11 attacks were launched from Afghanistan.

    Voters overall support bringing the troops home by 54 to 38 percent. Democrats are the strongest for pulling out at 67 to 23 percent, but Independents agree, 50 to 41 percent. Republicans think there is still work to be done there, by 53 to 42 percent.

  2. Iraq is a closer call, with Democrats for pulling out, Republicans for staying longer, and Independents evenly split.

    Congressman A says we should bring all our troops home from Iraq by the end of this year. We have overthrown a dictator and set up a democratic government. While we need to remain involved diplomatically, the work of our military forces is finished.

    Congressman B says it is a mistake to bring all our troops home from Iraq by the end of this year. Doing so will jeopardize the gains we have made, and some continued American military presence is necessary to protect the country from extremists and outside threats like Iran.

    Voters overall support bringing the troops home by 50 to 44 percent. Democrats are for pulling out at 67 to 28 percent, while Independents split evenly at 47 percent. Republicans think some continued American military presence is necessary, by 60 to 36 percent.

The Occupy Wall Street Movement

  1. The Occupy Wall Street movement has received significant attention lately, yet more Americans hold an unfavorable than a favorable view of the movement, with intensity on the negative side. The favorable/unfavorable ratings of Occupy Wall Street are 34/42 overall (17 percent very favorable/28 percent very unfavorable). Both Republicans and Independents give the movement an unfavorable rating (16/63 and 32/43, respectively), while Democrats rate it favorably (55/22).
  2. Opinions toward Occupy Wall Street improve when given arguments for and against the movement.

    Occupy Wall Street is a positive force in American politics. They are rightly pointing out the excesses of big banks and Wall Street, which made huge profits while jeopardizing the financial security of ordinary Americans.

    Occupy Wall Street is a negative force in American politics. They are left-wing activists who think capitalism is bad, and would prefer a system where government regulates profits and redistributes income instead of a free-market economy.

    With this explanation, Americans believe Occupy Wall Street is a positive force by 47 to 37 percent, including Democrats at 62 to 24 percent and Independents by 49 to 36 percent. Republicans view it as a negative force by 54 to 28 percent.

    In one more demonstration of populist anger toward Wall Street, one-third of the people with a favorable view of the Tea Party say Occupy Wall Street is a positive force.

    The bottom line: defending Wall Street and big banks is a losing political proposition in the current climate.


  1. Ratings for both "Republicans in Congress" and "Democrats in Congress" have declined over the course of the year. As demonstrated in our August survey, the debt limit debate damaged the image of both parties, and neither has recovered.
    • Favorable/unfavorable ratings of Republicans in Congress have gone from 45/42 in January to 40/50 in August to 38/55 today.
    • Favorable/unfavorable ratings of Democrats in Congress have gone from 45/46 in January to 42/48 in August to 42/50 today.


President Obama faces an uphill battle for reelection. Just as with President Carter in 1980 and President George H. W. Bush in 1992, when voters are very upset about the direction of the country and the opposition party nominates a credible alternative candidate, a presidential reelection campaign turns into a referendum on the incumbent president's leadership. If the election were held today, one year before the actual election, President Obama would lose that referendum.


This survey of 1000 registered voters was conducted October 30 to November 2, 2011. Respondents were selected randomly from a random-digit-dialing sample including both cell phone 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. The sample was minimally weighted to 34 percent Democrat, 34 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, ±5.66 percent for Republicans (300 respondents), ±5.34 percent for Independents (337 respondents), and ±5.31 percent for Democrats (340 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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