Poll: Independent Voters Like Barack Obama but Prefer Mitt Romney's Message

Posted April 9, 2012 at 2:35pm
Poll: Indie Voters Like Barack Obama but Prefer Mitt Romneys Message
(Saul Loeb/AFP/Pool)

With campaign polling so ubiquitous, I’m not often driven to report on a survey this far out from Election Day. Horse race polling this early can be deceiving and the volume of surveys produced has made it more difficult to identify significant trends.

But every rule has an exception, and the poll of battleground independents conducted for Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank, merits discussion. The organization’s latest poll reveals the complexity of choices before independent voters — a crucial demographic that could determine the outcome of the Nov. 6 elections — and the subtle nuances that could influence whom they might ultimately support.

Third Way surveyed independent voters in a dozen battleground states, including Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Perhaps the poll’s most informative findings in terms of educating us on the direction of the 2012 presidential race and what might affect the outcome: Third Way reports in a memo discussing the survey that it has refined its data to identify the 38 percent of independent voters that are still “up for grabs” — voters it designates as “swing state independents” — and discovered that while this demographic has more positive feelings toward President Barack Obama than his presumptive Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, these voters are “closer ideologically” to the former Massachusetts governor.

From Third Way:

Because Swing Independents prefer an optimistic, opportunity framework on the economy over one based on fairness and income inequality. The evidence from the poll was compelling:

· 80% of Swing Independents say they’d prefer a candidate to focus on increasing opportunity, rather than reducing income inequality.

· These voters pick an opportunity message over a fairness message by 51 to 43.

·  Income inequality is at best their secondary concern, with 57% to 38% saying that the deficit is a bigger priority.

· The supermajority of Swing Independents think the system is already basically fair, and by 3 to 1 they call themselves “haves,” not “have nots.”

·  Fully 90% say they are confident they can pay their bills, but only 8% are strongly confident the next generation will be able to find good jobs.

Without a doubt, these “Swing Independents” are opportunity voters, yet they currently associate President Obama with a fairness message. 63% say he would be more likely to talk about fairness and less than a quarter associate him with opportunity. And make no mistake: message matters greatly in wooing these Swings. Not only do they make up 15% of the overall electorate, they are truly in play: they prefer President Obama by 6 points, but over one-third are undecided, and the Congressional ballot is virtually tied, with nearly 6 in 10 undecided.

Asked who they would vote for if the election were held “today,” swing independents favored Obama, although the undecided make up a significant number. Still, the president begins the race with an advantage over Romney; that is good news for him and should not be dismissed, particularly with the former Massachusetts governor still looking over his shoulder in a Republican primary that has not concluded (even if his rivals have virtually no realistic chance of catching him).

However, Romney maintains a key edge over Obama: Swing independents view themselves as ideologically closer to the presumptive GOP nominee broadly — beyond the “opportunity” versus “fairness” message — than the president. This could prove important because Democrats have been working hard to paint Romney as ideologically extreme, and so far, with this demographic, at least, it isn’t working. This also is important because it means that Romney’s positions on major issues isn’t necessarily an obstacle to winning election, and in fact could boost him, should he manage to improve his favorability with swing voters.

Again, from Third Way:

Swing Independents are warm towards Obama.

Asked for whom they would cast their vote if the Presidential election were held today, among Swing Independents:

• 35% said President Obama;

• 29% said they would vote for Romney; and,

• 36% said they were undecided, but when pushed 9% said they leaned towards Obama and the same number towards Romney.

All told, that means President Obama would win Swing Independents 44% to 38%. And Obama’s favorability rating is even better amongst these voters than among Independents generally, with 57% holding a favorable view and only 35% an unfavorable one. Towards Governor Romney, however, the Swing Independents were split, with 41% saying their views were favorable and 40% unfavorable. Clearly, a large swath of the Swing Independents like the President and may be inclined to support him, as 57% of them said they did in 2008.

Swing Independents view themselves as ideologically closer to Romney. But despite these positive indications for the President, there are also obstacles and potential warning signs from the Swing Independents. Most fundamentally, when asked to place themselves on a 9-point ideological scale, with 1 being liberal, 9 being conservative, and 5 being moderate, Swing Independents put themselves just barely right-of-center at 5.21.  And they viewed Governor Romney as fairly close to themselves ideologically, placing him at 6.09. But they put President Obama at 3.91—meaning the gap they perceived between themselves and the President was 150% of the gap between themselves and Romney. It is notable that Swing Independents placed both President Obama and Romney equidistant from center, 1.09 to the left or right from the moderate 5. For these voters, the choice is between candidates they deem center-left and center-right, but they see themselves as slightly to the right-of-center.

Meanwhile, Third Way also polled respondents about Congress and found the following: Independents in battleground states preferred Republicans over Democrats in a generic ballot matchup, though only by 39 percent to 34 percent. Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans received similar favorable ratings. Independent voters gave Congressional Republicans a 32 percent/57 percent favorable/unfavorable rating, compared with 31 percent/58 percent favorable/unfavorable marks for Congressional Democrats.

Global Strategy Group surveyed 1,000 “self-identified” independents across the 12 battleground states that voted in the 2008 presidential election. The margin of error was 3.1 points. The “swing-state independents” included 376 of the 1,000 respondents; the margin of error for data gleaned from this group was 5.1 percent. The polling was conducted March 8-18.