On Wednesday I argued that only a tiny swath of the actual electorate – maybe 10 percent – will be up for grabs in November. Today, I want to answer the obvious follow-up question: what are these voters thinking?
At this point in the cycle, they probably are not paying very much attention, and they similarly have little information to go on about Mitt Romney. However, they do have a much more firm opinion of President Obama, and that we can take a look at via the public opinion polling.
Let’s use the polls that are currently in the RealClearPolitics average of Obama’s approval that also include data on how independent voters are thinking. Granted, many independents actually are, for all intents and purposes, partisans. However, it is within this group that we will find most of our true swing voters, so they are our best bet for examination.
To start, how is Obama’s job approval with these independents?
Clearly, Obama is weaker with independents than he is with everyone else combined, and that number – 40.5 percent – is probably insufficient for reelection. That is roughly as well as the GOP did in the 2006 midterm and the Democrats did in the 2010 midterm, both of which resulted in about a 6-point defeat for the majority parties. To win a majority of the national popular vote with such a poor performance with independents, Obama would have to pull an even stronger Democratic turnout than he did in 2008.
Let’s drill this down a little further. Very few polls offer much more than this when it comes to what independent voters are thinking, but Quinnipiac does. Here are some interesting results from that poll:
-37 percent of independents have a favorable view of Obama, compared to 56 percent with an unfavorable view.
-37 percent of independents believe that Obama deserves to be reelected, compared to 58 percent who do not.
-28 percent of independents approve of Obama’s handling of the economy, compared to 67 percent who disapprove.
-38 percent of independents approve of Obama’s handling of foreign policy, compared to 54 percent who disapprove.
Quinnipiac also offers some interesting contrasts between Obama and Romney among independent voters. Again, opinions about Romney are not very well formed, so what is more illustrative here is how well Obama performs.
Obama’s lead on women’s issue is one bright spot for the president in this poll, and there are a few others.
-54 percent of independents think Obama has strong leadership qualities, compared to 43 percent who do not.
-52 percent of independents think Obama cares about the needs of people like them, compared to 45 percent who do not.
-82 percent of independents think Obama is a likeable person, compared to 14 percent who do not.
So what is the bottom line? Obama has a few sources of strength with the independent vote, but these are outweighed at this point by substantial weaknesses. Independents disapprove of his job in general, and according to Quinnipiac, think he has done a bad job on the big issues, would not do as good a job as Romney, and in general does not deserve to be reelected.
The polls are going to bounce around for the next few months, but when we drill it down it is the independent vote – or more specifically a portion of it – that will swing the whole election. And the president has serious problems with this bloc.