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Polling data on recession-wracked electorate gives GOP hope

A new national Republican survey released at the GOP convention in Tampa on Monday found that more than two-thirds of likely voters think the country is still in a recession.

The survey also found that President Barack Obama is in trouble with independents, with only 35 percent of them thinking he deserves a second term, two findings that the party hopes can give them an advantage this November.

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The survey of 1,000 likely voters was done by Resurgent Republic, a polling organization founded by Republican strategist Ed Gillespie and pollster Whit Ayres. With Gillespie now working for the Mitt Romney campaign, former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour has stepped in as interim chairman of the group.

Barbour joined Ayres at briefing for reporters Monday in Tampa on the polling data.

The poll, conducted last week, included an oversample of 462 voters in a dozen battleground states, including Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Among the findings:

·    The presidential race seems to be in a dead heat, with 46 percent of those interviewed backing Obama and 45 percent backing Romney.

·    Romney’s overall unfavorable rating (50 percent) is statistically even with Obama’s (49 percent).

·    Battleground voters are divided on Obama’s economic policies, but by wide margins most voters think both the economy and the federal government’s own financial situation are worse today than when Obama took office in 2009.

·    The Democrats’ message on Medicare – that Romney and the Republicans are intent on “ending Medicare as we know it” – isn’t persuasive to most voters. Voters are narrowly split on what to do about the future financing of Medicare. But by a small plurality, more voters prefer a Republican message on Medicare (give people under age 55 the choice of joining traditional Medicare or using Medicare dollars to buy a private health insurance plan).

The survey tested a number of statements – one liberal, the other conservative – to see which way the electorate might be leaning.

When given a choice of “fairness” statements, poll respondents overwhelmingly favored a more conservative statement: “Fairness is making sure everyone pays their fair share, and no one gets bailouts, preferential treatment, or special favors from political cronies.”

Only one out of three respondents preferred the more liberal “fairness” definition: “Fairness is making sure the wealthy pay their fair share by increasing their taxes, eliminating loopholes and giving up special deductions.”

Pollster Ayres made a point of stressing that the poll’s sample was tilted in favor of Democratic election turnout: 37 percent Democratic, 30 percent Republican and 30 percent independent.

“It’s really important to understand that that is the largest Democratic advantage in an actual electorate, according to exit polls, going back a dozen years,” Ayres said. “In 2008 when Obama was elected, exit poll interviews indicated the actual electorate was 39 percent Democratic in party identification, 32 percent Republican. In 2004 the exit poll data showed an electorate that was 37 Democratic and 37 percent Republican.”

“I think this is probably the best case scenario for Democrats” – in other words, the most favorable electorate that Obama can hope to expect on Election Day. And yet key indicators in the Resurgent Republic data show Obama in trouble – especially on the economy.

In his assessment of the data, Barbour said Romney is in better shape than Ronald Reagan was when he challenged President Jimmy Carter in 1980.

“At this time in 1980, Reagan was behind by nine (percentage points). So this (a statistically tied race) is very encouraging to me – to see these kind of numbers,” Barbour said.

Barbour added the biggest similarity between Carter and Obama is that “the American people thought the country had gone backwards under Jimmy Carter, and the American people think the country has gone backwards under Barack Obama.”

Barbour also noted that Carter in 1980 had been somewhat weakened by a primary challenge from Sen. Ted Kennedy, while this year Obama “didn’t have a challenge and yet he’s in worse shape than Carter.”