CHARLOTTE — At a Tuesday afternoon forum at the National Democratic Institute, pollsters Stan Greenberg, Peter Hart, Whit Ayres, and Jon Cohen discussed the future of opinion research — and shared some results from their polls and focus groups that should deeply trouble President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.
Ayres, who co-founded the Republican messaging and polling group Resurgent Republic with Romney adviser Ed Gillespie, said that his research shows that voters are “really fearful — even if they are working — about the economy and what it means for them and their children.” In his opinion, all questions that don’t directly deal with the economy are “irrelevant,” and because of this, “if the election were held today, Mitt Romney would win.”
Hart, chairman of the liberal-leaning Hart Research Associates, agreed that President Obama’s numbers on the economy were poor. He vehemently disagreed with Ayres that they are the only relevant factor in the race, however. Throughout the campaign, Hart has conducted several focus groups to see “what’s going on in the pit of [voters’] stomachs” — and the results are not pretty for Romney.
In one focus group, the participants were asked which presidential candidate they would rather go to a ballgame with. 9 said they’d go with President Obama, while 3 said Romney — but, according to Hart, they only picked him because he’d take a limo, or buy all the food. Not exactly the endorsement Romney would prefer.
Hart also asked a group “What would Mitt Romney be like as your next door neighbor?” Some of the responses included “snobbish, I’d feel uncomfortable around him,” “I wouldn’t feel like I was good enough for him,” and “he’s got some cool elevators for his cars.”
Perhaps most damaging for Romney, Hart’s research shows that 36 percent of voters have a more negative opinion of Romney due to his refusal to release more than a single year of his tax returns.
As one member of the focus group put it, “I understand that his personal life is his personal life…but if he’s made millions and millions of dollars from tax loopholes, is he going to do that for the rest of us?”
“They all need to start walking in everybody elses shoes, not millionaires who have prize horses who run in the olympics,” the woman continued. “They need to worry about how someone is going to put milk on their table.”
According to Hart, these anecdotes are a major issue for Romney. “We care about the human being who is going to be president,” he argued. Still, as Ayres noted, President Obama will be fighting a steep uphill battle unless he can convince Americans to adopt his economic message.
Greenberg has a suggestion on how the president can do so: focus on the middle class. As he pointed out, 60 percent of voters self-identify as being a part of the middle class, but their dream of being able to work hard and leave their children better off than they were is being crushed.
In his focus groups, Greenberg has found that voters think that they were in trouble before the financial crisis ever hit; American jobs have been disappearing and American debt has been growing for years, and voters are more interested in hearing a concrete plan of action than debating “how did President Obama respond to the crisis.” If Obama can show voters that he has a real plan to deal with the issues that matter to them, then they will likely reward him with a second term in office.
For more on the political power of the middle class, see Stan Greenberg and James Carville’s recently published book, It’s The Middle Class, Stupid!