Obama Support Collapsing Among Independents Posted on October 31, 2012 | Polling Analysis

In this last Resurgent Republic survey before the election, taken October 23-25, Mitt Romney has caught up with President Obama, and now leads the national ballot by 48 to 47 percent. The Romney advance has been driven by Independent voters who have moved toward Romney in the wake of the three Presidential debates.

President Obama defeated Senator John McCain among Independent voters in 2008 by eight percentage points (52 to 44 percent), one of the main reasons Obama won the presidential election. But this survey shows Obama's support collapsing among Independents. Governor Mitt Romney leads Obama among Independents by 51 to 39 percent. If those numbers hold, that would mark a net 20-point turnaround for Obama among Independent voters in four years.

Problems with Independent voters are nothing new for Barack Obama. Since our first survey in April of 2009, Resurgent Republic has been pointing out Obama's weakness among Independents and their resistance to his fiscal and economic policies. But this is the first survey since Mitt Romney secured the Republican nomination to show Obama trailing among Independents by double digits.

A portion of the survey was conducted for NPR in conjunction with Democracy Corps. 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 four percentage points more Democrats than Republicans, 35 percent Democrat and 31 percent Republican. That is in the middle of the range of party balance in the last three presidential elections: according to exit polls Democrats outnumbered Republicans by four percentage points in 2000 (39 to 35 percent), the parties were even in 2004 (37 percent each), and Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 7 percentage points in 2008 (39 to 32 percent). Following are key highlights of the survey.

The Presidential Election

  1. For the first time in Resurgent Republic polling since Mitt Romney secured the Republican nomination, he is ahead of Barack Obama on the ballot, 48 to 47 percent. Obama led by two points in our July survey (47 to 45), and by one point in our August survey (46 to 45). Romney’s one-point lead on this survey is primarily the result of his 12-point lead among Independents, up from an 8-point lead in August.
  2. Also for the first time in our polling, Romney's favorable rating surpasses his unfavorable rating, and his rating is now slightly better than Obama's. Romney's favorable/unfavorable rating is now 51 to 45 percent, compared to 44 to 50 percent in August. Obama's rating is now 51 to 48 percent, compared to 48 to 49 percent in August.
  3. Independents and Republicans now rate Romney more favorably than they did in August. Independents now give Romney a favorable/unfavorable rating of 54 to 40 percent, a great improvement compared to his rating of 45 to 46 percent in August. But part of the improvement in Romney's overall rating comes from Republicans who now rate him 96 to 4 percent, compared to 88 to 9 percent in August.
  4. Battleground states taken as a whole still give Obama a narrow lead. In the 12 states that appeared to be battleground states last summer, Obama still enjoys a lead of 50 to 46 percent, compared to 48 to 45 percent in August.
  5. Obama's image is better and Romney's is worse in the battleground states than nationally. Obama's favorable to unfavorable rating in the 12 battleground states is 54 to 44 percent, better than his 50 to 47 percent rating in August. Romney's favorable to unfavorable rating in the 12 battleground states is now 46 to 49 percent, slightly better than his 45 to 50 percent rating in August. Clearly the Obama campaign's negative ads on Romney have created a higher hill for Romney to climb in these states than elsewhere.
  6. Republicans are now more enthusiastic than Democrats or Independents about voting in the Presidential election. Among Republicans, 76 percent rate themselves "extremely enthusiastic" to vote, a "ten" on a one-to-ten scale in their level of enthusiasm, compared to 66 percent of Democrats and 54 percent of Independents who rate their enthusiasm a "ten." The party intensity gap has widened since our August survey where Republicans and Democrats were equally enthused.

The Debates

  1. Nine out of ten voters watched the debates or saw news coverage of them. Ninety-one percent of all voters said they watched either the debates or saw news coverage, with no significant differences among Republicans, Independents, or Democrats.
  2. Of that 91 percent, about two-thirds said they watched all of each one of the debates. Sixty-six percent said they watched all the first debate moderated by Jim Lehrer, 66 percent watched all the second debate moderated by Candy Crowley, and 62 percent said they watched all the third debate moderated by Bob Schieffer.
  3. The debates clearly helped Romney close the gap with Obama and turn the presidential contest into a dead heat. Of those who watched the debates, Republicans and Democrats were reinforced in their initial preference. Republicans said the debates made them more likely to vote for Romney by 65 to 3 percent, while Democrats said they made them more likely to vote for Obama by 58 to 3 percent (the remainder said they debates had no effect on their vote). But among Independents, 37 percent said the debates made them more likely to vote for Romney versus 21 percent for Obama, a critical 16-point advantage for Romney. Among battleground state voters, 33 percent were more likely to vote for Romney after the debates, versus 28 percent for Obama, a 5-point Romney advantage. This survey confirms what others polls have shown: the debates, especially the first debate, constituted a watershed moment in the presidential campaign.

Electoral Groups

  1. Compared to 2008 exit polls, Mitt Romney is running significantly ahead of John McCain among many important groups in the electorate. The following chart compares the McCain's lead or deficit from exit polls with Romney's lead or deficit from this survey.

Barack Obama's Job Performance

  1. Voters are split right down the middle on Obama's job performance. 49 percent approve and 49 percent disapprove. Predictably, Democrats overwhelmingly approve and Republicans overwhelmingly disapprove. But Independents and battleground state voters split in their assessment of the President: Independents disapprove by 54 to 42 percent, while battleground state voters approve by 52 to 46 percent.
  2. Voters are somewhat more negative on Obama's job performance on the economy, which remains the best predictor of his ballot standing. Overall 47 percent of voters approve of his economic job performance and 52 percent disapprove. Independents overwhelmingly disapprove by 60 to 39 percent, while battleground state voters split evenly at 49 percent approve and 48 percent disapprove.
  3. Obama's job approval on the economy remains the best predictor of his support on the ballot. The powerful relationship between Obama's economic job approval, which Resurgent Republic has demonstrated before, continues in this survey. 47 percent of voters overall approve of his handling of the economy, and he stands at 47 percent on the ballot. Among Independents his economic handling is 39 percent; his ballot is 39 percent. In battleground states his economic approval is 49 percent; his ballot is 50 in the battlegrounds.

Candidate Trust

  1. Voters now trust Romney more than Obama on handling jobs and the economy, the number one issue facing the country. By 50 to 46 percent, voters trust Romney more on handling jobs and the economy. Independents trust Romney by 55 to 36 percent, while battleground voters are split at 48 percent Romney/49 percent Obama.
  2. Obama's greatest advantage lies on handling foreign policy and diplomacy. On that measure 52 percent of all voters trust Obama and 43 percent trust Romney. Independents narrowly favor Obama by 46 to 44 percent, while battleground state voters favor Obama by a substantial margin, 56 to 40 percent. The following table ranks issues from most trust in Romney to most trust in Obama:

  3. More voters think Barack Obama than Mitt Romney has laid out a clear agenda for what he would like to do over the next four years if he is elected, primarily because a quarter of Republicans think Obama has laid out an agenda that they do not want. Overall voters think Obama has laid out a clear agenda by 55 to 43 percent, compared to 49 percent who think Romney has and 49 percent who think he has not. Independents are somewhat more likely to say Romney has laid out a clear agenda (50 to 47 percent) than say the same about Obama (46 percent say he has and 51 percent say he has not). But it is the 27 percent of Republicans who say Obama has laid out a clear agenda (compared to the 3 percent of Republicans who are voting for him) that allow Obama to "win" on these questions.

Campaign Messages

  1. Not surprisingly at the end of a campaign, a summary of the two campaign's messages splits the country just like the presidential ballot. Voters were asked to pick between two messages (Resurgent Republic wrote the Republican statement, and Democracy Corps wrote the Democratic statement):

    The Republican candidate says if Barack Obama is reelected, the next four years will be just like the last four. The middle class is getting crushed. Incomes are down by $4,300 per family, and health insurance premiums are up by $2,500. 23 million Americans are still out of work. He said he would cut the deficit in half, but instead he doubled it. Governor Romney has a plan to help the middle class and small businesses, and create 12 million new jobs. We just can't afford four more years of Barack Obama.

    The Democratic candidate says we’re moving forward but we have much more to do to get jobs back and help the middle class. Governor Romney would take us back to policies that got us in trouble. So, here's my plan for the next four years: make education a national priority; build on our manufacturing boom, give tax breaks to companies that invest here; boost American-made energy; reduce the deficit responsibly AND ask the wealthy to pay a little more. And end the war in Afghanistan so we can do nation-building here at home.

    Voters overall split between the two messages at 48 percent each, virtually identical to the 48 to 47 percent Rommey/Obama ballot. Independents prefer the Republican message by 51 to 42 percent, while battleground state voters prefer the Democratic message by 51 to 44 percent. The campaign messages without candidate names reflect the deep divisions in the country for the best way forward.

Political Environment

  1. A majority of American voters continues to say the country is on the wrong track. By 55 to 41 percent, voters think the country is going the wrong way. That is an improvement from the 60 to 32 percent split the last time we asked the question in July, but the reason is interesting. Republicans (95 to 5 percent wrong track now versus 92 to 6 percent in July) and Independents (64 to 30 percent wrong track now versus 67 to 25 percent in July) are almost as negative on the course of the country today as three months ago. The overall number has improved because Democrats are more optimistic: 83 to 12 percent wrong track today, versus 61 to 30 percent in July.
  2. The same pattern holds for whether or not the country is "moving forward." Today voters overall think the country is not moving forward by a margin of 50 to 47 percent, compared to 54 to 39 percent when we last asked the question in August. But Republicans are as negative today (89 to 9 percent not moving forward) as they were in August (86 to 9 percent not moving forward), as are Independents who say by a 20-point margin that we are not moving forward today (58 to 38 percent), compared to a 23-point margin for not moving forward in August (58 to 35 percent). Democrats, on the other hand, think we are moving forward today by 88 to 9 percent, a significant improvement over the 65 to 27 percent margin in August.
  3. Economic issues like jobs and unemployment continue their dominance over this election. Fifty-seven percent of voters overall, and a majority of each partisan group, says economic issues are most likely to affect their vote for President and Congress. Jobs and the economy outweigh fiscal issues like taxes, spending, deficits, and debt (16 percent most important), social issues like abortion and gay marriage (14 percent), and national security issues like terrorism, Afghanistan, and Libya (8 percent). That ordering of relative importance has remained stable throughout this election cycle.
  4. Three-fifths of voters think the country is still in a recession. 63 percent of all voters think we are still in a recession, including 83 percent of Republicans, 67 percent of Independents, and 59 percent of battleground state voters. Only Democrats think we are not in a recession by 52 to 42 percent.
  5. Voters continue to say America is worse off than when Barack Obama took office in January of 2009 on four of five measures. On all but safety from terrorists, Independents agree with Republicans that America is worse off; Democrats overwhelmingly believe the country is better off on all five measures.


  1. The generic ballot for Congress is now tied, and Independents prefer Republicans by 10 points. Overall preference for a Republican candidate or a Democratic candidate for Congress is now 43 percent for each. But Independents prefer the Republican candidate over the Democratic candidate for Congress by 42 to 32 percent.
  2. Congressional job approval remains abysmal. Only 16 percent of voters approve of the job Congress is doing, while 79 percent disapprove. Disapproval of Congress is one thing partisans of all stripes agree on: Republicans disapprove 83 to 12 percent, Independents disapprove 87 to 10 percent, and Democrats disapprove 71 to 24 percent.
  3. Independents do not like representatives of either party in Congress, but they disapprove of Republicans less than Democrats. The favorable/unfavorable rating of "Republicans in Congress" among Independents is 39 to 53 percent, compared to 33 to 59 percent for "Democrats in Congress."


This Presidential election bears similarities to 1980 when Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter. While Barack Obama is in a far stronger position now than Carter was then (Obama's job approval is 49 percent; Carter's was in the mid-30s), both elections feature an incumbent Democratic president trying to paint his Republican challenger as a dangerous right-winger. Both elections feature debates where the Republican challenger's performance undercut the opposition's argument, and led to a surge on the ballot. Since the Republican candidate became an acceptable alternative through the debates, the election devolved into a referendum on the incumbent and his record. Carter could not win that referendum. Next week we will see if Barack Obama can.


This survey of 1000 likely voters nationally, including an oversample to reach a total of 462 battleground-state voters, was conducted October 23-25, 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, 33 percent Independent, and 31 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, ±5.60 percent for Republicans (306 respondents), ±5.58 percent for Independents (309 respondents), ±5.09 percent for Democrats (370 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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