Romney Holds Serve Among Obama Independents Posted on October 15, 2012 | Focus Group

Resurgent Republic sponsored two focus groups in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, among Independent voters who supported Barack Obama in 2008 and are not strongly affiliated with either candidate today. Conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, the groups were split by gender.

In 2008 President Obama won Independents by 52 to 44 percent. As Resurgent Republic first noted in the spring of 2009, swing voters took a step away from the president due to his government-centric polices on spending, the economy, and health care. Recent public polling confirms this narrative remains unchanged. Governor Romney was up 4 points among Independents in our most recent survey conducted prior to the Denver debate, and other public polling since then has the challenger with a double-digit advantage among this critically important voting bloc. Moreover, when considering the first presidential debate, President Obama offered little to convince these voters they should buy back in, and Governor Romney filled the void by coming across as presidential and prepared to take office. The following are key highlights from our focus groups:

  1. There was a high level of awareness of the first presidential debate, and all participants were surprised and disappointed by President Obama's performance. More than half of the participants in each group said they watched at least some of the first presidential debate, and even those who hadn't were well aware of what happened due to the news coverage. Asked if the debate had changed their opinions of either candidate, voters in these groups described Obama's performance as subpar at best. The women's critiques of President Obama were especially harsh, with one woman saying Obama 'didn't have an answer for anything" and another that he "allowed Romney to run roughshod over him." Reactions were similar in the men's group, with one man saying that Obama seemed like "a kid who was supposed to give a speech but forgot to practice."

  2. Mitt Romney came across as presidential to these voters during the debate, and as a result, they are more likely to view him as qualified to be president. Standing on the same stage and on equal footing with the president almost always helps the challenger, and this debate was no exception. Participants described Romney as confident, prepared, and having a firm grasp on the issues, presenting a clear contrast with the flustered and, as one woman said, "rambling" counterpart. Even more important politically, the Mitt Romney they watched on the debate stage was a positive divergence from the caricature drawn by a barrage of negative advertising these voters have seen.

  3. A majority of participants in both groups remain very pessimistic about the economy. When asked for one word or short phrase to describe the state of the economy, participants used words like "dismal", "lousy", "lackluster", and "disaster." Prompted to expand on these phrases, the participants focused on how the poor economy was affecting them and their family. Several people mentioned how their everyday costs of gas, food, and health care are increasing, while their take-home pay remains stagnant. Even minimal cost of living pay increases were seen as a thing of the past in these groups.

  4. Participants don't blame President Obama for the slow economic recovery, yet the unemployment rate dropping below 8 percent is not an October surprise. These Obama Independents are hesitant to place blame squarely on President Obama, and this sentiment is the president's saving grace in the campaign, since they fail to name Obama policies that have aided the recovery save the auto bailout. Having been "dealt a bad hand," President Obama is perceived as "doing the best he could."

    Some in each group were aware of the unemployment rate falling below 8 percent, but none saw it as a major sign of progress. Instead, many participants mentioned without prompting that the number failed to take into account the underemployed or those who had given up looking for a job. For these voters, unemployment was a major problem for the country at 8.1 percent, and it remains one at 7.8 percent.

  5. Shrinking middle class income, rising heath care costs, and the number of people unemployed top the list of concerns expressed by voters in both groups. Given a list of statistics over the past four years, voters were asked to rank the three figures that were most important to them. Of the three, participants were most vocal and specific about middle class income, describing how it affected them and their children, and also mentioning how many of the other statistics like home values and health care costs are subsets of middle class income as a whole. While these voters are hesitant to cast blame on the president for these categories, Mitt Romney is well-positioned to solidify his leading position with swing voters if he communicates how his plan will do a better job alleviating these concerns compared to the policies put in place during the past four years.

  6. These voters want specifics from both presidential candidates. When asked to offer one final piece of advice to both campaigns, the consensus in these groups was both candidates need to be specific about what they will do moving forward. Mitt Romney's debate performance laid the groundwork for the specifics these voters desire to hear, and he will be in good standing by continuing to talk about the actions he’d take as president. If President Obama is to win back these voters, he'll need a campaign strategy beyond playing prevent defense and trying to run out the clock. These voters want to know what both candidates will do for them and how they will do it. Several mentioned they felt like the two political parties look out for either the rich or the poor and that the middle class is largely ignored. The candidate who can convince them otherwise will have a good chance to win the support of these voters.



All voters in these two focus groups supported President Obama in 2008 and are not strongly affiliated with either candidate today.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
October 8, 2012
Groups separated by gender
Conducted by Public Opinion Strategies

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