Republican poll analysis: Romney winning with middle-class families
By: Ed Goeas and Brian Nienaber
September 24, 2012 04:34 AM EDT
In early August, with our Republican analysis of the POLITICO-George Washington University Battleground Poll, we wrote “… this election will remain close until the final weeks of the campaign. There will be ups and downs for both campaigns throughout the next 13 weeks, but the basic dynamics that are driving this electorate and framing this election remain well in place.” Two conventions, and tens of millions of campaign dollars later, we continue to hold that belief. While there have been dozens of polls released during the past six weeks that have had Mitt Romney up by as much as 4 points and Barack Obama up by as much 8 or 9, those variations have had more to do with sampling variations than with real movement in the campaign.
Yes, there have been gaffes on both sides that have been the focus of both the news media and opposing campaigns, but the dynamics that have been the real drivers of the campaign, the economy and deeply negative feelings about the direction of the country, have not changed. There have also been negative stories about the internal operations, messaging and strategy of both presidential campaigns. In August, leading into the Republican convention, there were multiple stories about the Obama campaign operation and internal fights about both message and strategic direction that led one to believe the wheels were coming off. Now it is the Romney campaign’s turn.
The past several weeks have been filled with news stories, editorials and columns heaping criticism on the tactics and strategy of the Romney campaign. Many of these opinion pieces even suggested that Romney’s only hope for winning is to make substantial changes to his campaign. Much of this analysis is based on the premise that Romney is out of touch and has not been making an affirmative case to middle-class voters. His comments at a private fundraiser in May were pointed to as an illustration that he could never identify with and win the support of many middle-class voters. We took a special look at middle-class voters, and middle-class families in particular, in this latest POLITICO-George Washington University Battleground Poll and found that not to be the case. In fact, on every measure it is Romney who is winning the battle for the support of middle-class families.
Overall, Obama leads Romney by just 3 points on the ballot (50 percent to 47 percent) – which before we rounded up, is actually a 2.6 point lead and only up a half-a-percentage point from the 2.1 point lead for Obama in our last Battleground poll in early August. In our latest POLITICO-George Washington University Battleground Poll with middle-class families, which comprise about 54 percent of the total American electorate and usually split in their vote behavior between Republicans and Democrats, Romney holds a 14-point advantage (55 percent to 41 percent). Middle-class families are more inclined to believe the country is on the wrong track (34 percent right direction, 62 percent wrong track), are more likely to hold an unfavorable view of Obama (48 percent favorable, 51 percent unfavorable), and hold a more favorable view of Romney (51 percent favorable, 44 percent unfavorable) and Paul Ryan (46 percent favorable, 35 percent unfavorable) than the overall electorate. These middle-class families also hold a majority disapproval rating on the job Obama is doing as president (45 percent approve, 54 percent disapprove), and turn even more negative toward Obama on specific areas; the economy 56 percent disapprove; spending 61 percent disapprove; taxes, 53 percent disapprove; Medicare 48 percent disapprove; and even foreign policy 50 percent disapprove.
All of this data make clear that Romney has won the strong support of middle-class families and is leading the president on an overwhelming majority of key measurements beyond just the ballot. In fact, when respondents were asked who, Obama or Romney, would best handle a variety of issues, Romney led on all but one including the economy (+9 percent), foreign policy (+3 percent), spending (+15 percent), taxes (+7 percent), Medicare (+2 percent), and jobs (+10 percent). Ironically, the one measurement Obama led Romney on was “standing up for the middle class” (+8 Obama), reinforcing that often the Democrats win the message war with the middle class, but not their hearts and souls.
Looking at this presidential election overall, intensity among voters is high with Republicans, Democrats, and now independents, and is at levels more comparable with the final days of a presidential election than six weeks out from Election Day. In fact, fully 80 percent of voters now say that they are extremely likely to vote. Even with the past few weeks containing some of the toughest days of earned media for the Romney campaign, and perhaps as a surprise to Washington insiders, Romney continues to win Republicans (Romney by a net +87 percent) by the same margin Obama is winning with Democrats (Obama by a net +88 percent), and is still winning with independents (+2 percent). Romney has majority support with voters over the age of 45 (+7 percent), with men (+6 percent), with white women (+9 percent), and with married voters (+14 percent). In addition, Romney has solidified his base. Support among conservative voters exceeds 70 percent (73 percent), his support among very conservative voters exceeds 80 percent (83 percent), and his support among Republicans exceeds 90 percent (91 percent). Romney is also receiving a higher level of support among Hispanics (40 percent), which is driven by higher support from Hispanic men.
Democratic pollster Celinda Lake has often made the point that Democratic voters are becoming more secular and Republicans more faith based. That certainly appears to be holding up in this election. Digging a little deeper on the presidential ballot, Romney has majority support (51 percent) among Catholics, which in past presidential elections has been one of the most predictive demographic groups of the eventual outcome. Even further, Romney is a winning majority across all religions amongst those who attend services at least weekly (59 percent) or monthly (52 percent), while Obama is winning among those who attend less frequently, never, or are nonbelievers.
For most voters, however, this election is still about pocketbook issues. Fully 66 percent of voters select a pocketbook issue as their top concern. The Romney camp should feel good going into the three presidential debates knowing he has majority support (Romney 53 percent/Obama 44 percent) from these economically focused voters.
In fact, even with all of the misleading partisan attacks on the proposals from Ryan to reform Medicare, a majority of seniors (61 percent) select a pocketbook issue and not Medicare as their top issue of concern and nearly 6 in 10 seniors (58 percent) are voting for the Romney-Ryan ticket.
In addition to their high level of intensity about casting a ballot, many voters are already notably engaged in the campaign. A strong majority of voters (60 percent) say they watched both the Republican and the Democratic national conventions. The ballot among these highly attentive voters is tied with 3 percent undecided. The conventions took a race that was a statistical tie, and simply drove up the vote intensity of all voters. At the same time, there are enough undecided and soft voters remaining for either candidate to win. In fact, even at this stage of the campaign, 13 percent of those making a choice on the presidential ballot indicate that they would consider voting for the other candidate.
A significant number of voters report that the upcoming presidential and vice presidential debates will be extremely (11 percent) or very (12 percent) important to their vote decision. (Twenty-six percent of Obama’s supporters currently place this high level of importance on the debates as does 20 percent of Romney supporters.) This means the debates are one of the best opportunities available for Romney to take votes from Obama. If Romney can continue to make a solid case about turning around the economy and the direction of the country in contrast to the president’s failed economic policies, these voters will be watching and many of them are currently Obama supporters.
Presidential reelection races are almost always about the incumbent and whether or not they should be given an additional four years in office. This race looks to be no different. There is no sign of any good economic news on the horizon and two-thirds of the American electorate is focused on pocketbook issues as their top concern. Fifty-seven percent of these voters disapprove of the job the president is doing on the economy, 62 percent disapprove in his handling of the budget and federal spending, and 54 percent believe that Romney would be better at job creation. Yes, Romney has the issue advantage with these pocketbook-focused voters, and is winning their support by 53 percent to Obama’s 44 percent.
More important, in this latest set of data in the POLITICO-George Washington University Battleground Poll, is the fact that Romney is also winning by a strong 14-point margin over Obama with middle-class families, a group of voters that is not only a majority of the American electorate, but is usually seen as the ultimate target group in any presidential election.