President Barack Obama and Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney are tied in the polls in what many consider the top issue in the 2012 presidential election: the economy.
According to a survey by The Washington Post and ABC News, 49 percent of voters would support Obama, and 46 percent would vote for Romney. The voters indicated no preference for the candidate who would best handle the economy. On this issue the candidates were tied at 47 percent of registered voters.
Herb Weisberg, a political science professor at Ohio State whose research focuses on U.S. presidential elections, Congress and voting behavior, said it’s clear that the economy is on everyone’s mind for the 2012 election. He said a number of factors could help set the candidates apart on this issue.
Weisberg said the unemployment rate closer to election time could help or hurt Obama’s campaign. He also said Romney’s experience at Bain Capital “works both ways.” Romney will argue that the investment firm he co-founded created jobs, while Obama will argue that it both created jobs and took them away.
Drew Stroemple, president of OSU’s College Republicans and a second-year in political science and economics, said Romney’s experience at Bain could help him win the election.
“Economy is going to be the focus of the election, and that’s the area Romney is most experienced in,” Stroemple said. “People are going to want someone who has experience in the private sector.”
The survey also revealed that 30 percent of Americans polled said they are worse off financially than when Obama took office in 2009. Obama’s overall job performance approval rate in the survey was 47 percent approval, with 49 percent disapproval. The poll published the data with a 3.5 percent margin of error.
Weisberg cautioned against reading too much into job performance ratings and political polls in general. He said the results of the polls come down to partisanship, and that some of the people disapproving of Obama are Republicans who would disapprove of him under any circumstances.
“You’ve always got half the country saying a Republican president isn’t doing well because they’re Democrats saying that, and half the country saying a Democratic president isn’t doing well because they’re Republicans saying that,” Weisberg said. “So you’re not going to get a lot higher than (47 percent approval).”
When asked specifically about the president’s handling of the economy, 55 percent of voters disapproved. Weisberg said Obama will try to get people to see that the economy could be in worse shape if someone else was handling it.
“Obama has to convince people that if not for him, the economy would be so much worse,” Weisberg said. “That’s a hard thing to sell people.”
Obama was able to win over female voters and other minority voters in the last election, and Weisberg said Obama should be able to do the same this year.
While Obama and Romney are virtually tied on the economy, the survey indicated that Obama held an advantage with minority voters. Obama has a seven-point advantage among female voters.
Obama is also looking to win the youth vote as he did in 2008, which is why so much of his campaigning so far has been on college campuses, Weisberg said. Yet Weisberg said this voting demographic in particular is difficult to capture.
“Young people don’t vote in huge numbers,” Weisberg said. “The turnout rate is low, but they voted for him much more overwhelmingly than is usually the case for any candidate.
The question is how much enthusiasm he can build for the campaign … It’s clear that he’s trying to get the youth vote energized, and it’s a hard group to energize.”
Stroemple agreed that Obama will face a greater challenge in winning the youth vote in his re-election campaign.
“Obama won the youth vote in a landslide (in 2008), but he’s not going to do it so easily this time because students want jobs when they graduate. There’s a huge (student loan) debt and they have to pay it,” Stroemple said.
Michael Flannagan, communication director for College Democrats at OSU and a second-year in political science, said in an email that Obama’s campaign is trying to energize young voters through Obama’s kick-off rally at OSU on May 5 and from the campaign field office that opened in the South Campus Gateway May 23, the first field office on a university campus in Ohio.
“We have developed a campaign that is geared toward Ohio State students. We know the importance of the youth vote in this campaign and we’re focusing on it through … tabling on the Oval, canvassing door-to-door and making hundreds of phone calls a week,” Flannagan said.
Weisberg said rhetoric from political ads will be powerful in swaying public opinion of the two candidates, and people should expect to see even more, mostly negative, political ads in the months leading up to the election.
But Weisberg said it is too early to tell what the election will bring.
“So much is going to change that it’s hard to take the polls too seriously,” Weisberg said. “It’s going to be a very close election, that I’m sure of, a lot closer than 2008.”