Growing voter confidence in economy lifts Obama
BY CHARLES BABINGTON & THOMAS BEAUMONT Associated Press
Sunday, September 30, 2012
9/30/12 at 8:46 AM
WASHINGTON - Americans are growing more optimistic about the economy and President Barack Obama's leadership, creating a significant obstacle for Republican rival Mitt Romney five weeks to Election Day.
Even with unemployment above 8 percent for a 43rd straight month, polls find voters taking comfort in modest signs of economic progress, from a solid jump in consumer confidence this month to steady gains in home prices. Surveys show Obama opening up leads over Romney in several key states, thanks to voters such as Jim Young, 62, a retired engineer from Iowa.
A political independent, Young says Obama's policies have eased the nation's pain as the recovery plods along. "The markets have been doing quite well. So, personally, ... we can't complain," Young said.
Interviews with voters in vital swing states and opinion polls suggest Romney played into Democrats' efforts to paint him as an out-of-touch plutocrat when a secretly recorded video showed him saying 47 percent of Americans consider themselves victims who depend on government care.
"Romney seems fake, especially after the 47 percent comment," said Kurtis Nash of Cincinnati. "I've always voted for Republicans," he said, but now he's leaning toward Obama.
Whether the video played a big role, Obama is leading in polls in Ohio, Florida, Virginia and elsewhere. Romney's backers are struggling to change the momentum in a race shaped in large part by voters' perception of the economy and their overall view of who would do a better job for the middle class.
"Sometimes there is a tipping point in politics where the cumulative effect of several things - and one singular defining event - can flip voters in one direction," said Republican pollster Steve Lombardo. "I think that was what did happen with '47 percent.' It came after two bad weeks for Romney and crystallized voter perceptions, driven by negative ads, that he only cares about rich people."
Obama aides are quick to note that the election is far from over, and any number of unforeseen events could shift the tide. The Romney team hopes Wednesday's presidential debate in Denver will enable the former Massachusetts governor to alter the campaign's dynamics.
Analysts in both parties point to several likely reasons for Obama's leap in the swing state polls, including:
Rising economic optimism:
From the start, Romney said voters should fire Obama chiefly for his handling of the economy. But Americans are feeling somewhat better about the economy and less inclined to see Romney as the needed fixer.
Associated Press-GfK polls conducted in May and June showed voters about evenly divided between the candidates on the question "who do you trust to do a better job handling the economy." Romney held a narrow edge in August.
But a September survey showed Obama opening up a clear lead on the question, 50 percent to Romney's 43 percent.
The latest poll showed more adults approving, rather than disapproving, of Obama's handling of the economy, for the first time in more than a year.
Meanwhile, consumer confidence rose to its highest level since February. And the median price of homes sold last month increased by a record amount as mortgage rates remain at an all-time low. The once underwater housing market is showing signs of a modest recovery.
A Washington Post poll of Ohio and Florida voters found more confidence in an economic rebound under Obama than under Romney.
Romney's struggle to connect with voters:
Romney, who made millions of dollars heading the private equity firm Bain Capital, has never had a breezy rapport with voters. But Democrats - and some GOP primary rivals - have worked to portray him as something worse: an unfeeling "vulture capitalist" who doesn't mind laying off workers to increase profits.
Romney's team hoped the Republican convention in August would present him as a caring and competent leader. Polls suggest it didn't help much.
The Washington Post poll of registered voters in three battleground states found Obama far ahead of Romney on the question of "who better understands the economic problems" of Americans. Obama bested his Republican challenger by 53 percent to 39 percent in Florida, 54 percent to 37 percent in Virginia, and 57 percent to 34 percent in Ohio.
Original Print Headline: Obama gains as economic confidence rises
Workers form a large spindle from glowing hot metal at Solmet Technologies in Canton, Ohio. Ohio was once synonymous with steel and rubber, but the state has lost more than 368,000 manufacturing jobs since 2000. MARK DUNCAN / Associated Press