WASHINGTON — Independent voters in battleground states lean slightly in President Barack Obama’s favor at this early stage in the campaign, but a new poll shows that the same voters who like Obama better also tilt more toward Mitt Romney on the political spectrum, particularly on economic priorities.
The poll, conducted by Global Strategy Group for the Democratic think-tank Third Way, focused on a segment of independent voters — “swing independents” — defined as those voters who did not express strong views about either of the candidates. They are expected to be about 15 percent of the electorate in the general election.
The poll found that 44 percent of swing independents currently favor Obama to 38 percent for Romney. Obama won 57 percent of swing independents in 2008.
But when asked to identify themselves and the candidates on an ideological spectrum, swing independents appear to be slightly more aligned with Romney.
On a scale of one to nine, with one being the most liberal and nine being the most conservative, swing independents, on average, put themselves at a 5.2. They put Obama at a 3.9 — slightly more liberal than Democrats as a whole, who were at 3.93. They put Romney at a 6.09 — considerably less conservative than the GOP as a whole, at 6.79.
“For these voters, the choice is between candidates they deem center-left and center-right, but they see themselves as slightly to the right-of-center,” Third Way’s Michelle Diggles and Lanae Erickson wrote in a memo about the poll’s findings.
Global Strategy Group surveyed 1,000 self-identified independent likely voters from March 8 through March 18 in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. The survey included only people who voted in the 2008 presidential election. The margin of error for swing independents was plus or minus 5.1 percentage points.
The poll found that the “fairness argument,” which some Democrats have advocated as a message for the 2012 election, does not resonate with swing independents. This segment of voters does not consider income inequality a top concern, they generally think the existing system is fair, and they view themselves as haves, not have-nots.
Their top economic concerns are the deficit, growth and jobs, not economic equality.
Asked what was the most important way to make the economy stronger, 55 percent said providing “more economic opportunity for Americans to succeed through hard work.” Just 19 percent said “create more economic security so all Americans can withstand life’s misfortunes.”
“No matter what definition of fairness one chooses, swing independents are not wooed by a fairness message — rather, it often seemed to skirt their deepest economic concerns,” Diggles and Erickson wrote.
Instead, they argued, an effective message with swing independents would focus on an opportunity theme. Fifty-one percent of swing independents said they would select a candidate who argues that the country needs an economy based on opportunity while 43 percent said they would choose the candidate who argues for an economy based on fairness.
In their analysis of the poll results, Diggles and Erickson warned Democrats against attempting to merge the “populist fairness argument,” with an “opportunity message.”
“That mixed message doesn’t work,” they wrote. “Because of their preconceived notions of Democrats and President Obama, the fairness message is stickier with these voters — it confirms what they already think they know about policymakers to their left.”