Persuadable Voters’ Economic Woes Give Romney an Opening

When it comes to handling women’s health issues and foreign affairs, Dawn Massop Love sides with President Barack Obama. For closing tax loopholes and boosting small businesses, she trusts Mitt Romney to do the job.

“There’s a list of 100 items that need to be fixed in this country, and they’re probably 50-50 on them,” Love, 43, a marketing manager from Lafayette, Colorado says of Obama and Romney. “I’m waiting to decide, because I really need to hear a little bit more about their plans.”

Meet one of the persuadable voters who comprise about 18 percent of the likely electorate, according to the latest Bloomberg National Poll. They’re conflicted over which candidate to choose, confused and sometimes little-informed about their options, and they could hold the key to the presidential race.

Obama has a six-percentage-point edge over Romney among likely voters in the poll conducted Sept. 21-24, with 7 percent saying they weren’t sure whom to choose and an additional 11 percent saying they could still change their minds. According to an analysis of the results, Romney would have to win more than two-thirds of those persuadable voters to win the election.

“They don’t love either candidate, so they’re just sitting back and waiting,” said J. Ann Selzer of Selzer & Co., the Des Moines, Iowa-based firm that conducted the poll. “These are people who are not as plugged in, their enthusiasm is low, and it’s a group that’s hard to connect to, because they’re not seeking that connection.”

Romney Advantage

There’s more good news than bad for Romney for appealing to this group. It starts with the adage that undecided voters typically choose the challenger on Election Day, because they aren’t already sold on the incumbent.

The Bloomberg telephone survey of 789 likely voters, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, contains more evidence that these voters are open to Romney. More of Romney’s supporters, 13 percent, said they could change their mind than Obama’s backers, only 11 percent of whom said they could still be influenced. That means more persuadable voters in the poll tilt Republican and lean in Romney’s direction on some issues.

They’re more apt than other likely voters to say the nation is on the wrong track -- 71 percent compared to 59 percent of likely voters who said so -- and have a dimmer view of Obama’s favorability, with 45 percent of them holding a positive impression compared to 52 percent among voters overall. They also dislike Romney in smaller numbers; 41 percent of persuadable voters held an unfavorable view of him compared with 49 percent of likely voters.

Wrong Track

Persuadable voters are more convinced of the economic case Romney has made than they are of Obama’s, with 41 percent saying the Republican has laid out a better vision for a successful future compared to 25 percent saying the president has. Likely voters overall preferred Obama’s economic vision, 47 percent to 44 percent.

The poll shows these voters are disproportionately located in Midwestern states -- the area on which much of the election is being fought -- with 34 percent of them living there compared with 25 percent of likely voters.

“A lot of it is confusing to me as to where the two candidates actually stand on some issues, so I’m up in the air as yet -- it’s flat out 50-50,” said Murl Nash, a retired television newsman from Jefferson City, Missouri. “Romney’s background is business, so that’s probably good, but I don’t know how he’d be as a president, with foreign policy and all that.”

Debate Watch

In follow-up interviews after the poll, some wavering voters said they were waiting to watch next month’s three presidential debates, hoping for policy details that might help them decide whom to support.

“It’s very telling in my mind when you can see them on the same stage together,” said Love, an Obama supporter in 2008 who is unhappy about the state of the economy. “If the president’s position is CEO of the company, the way you handle yourself with questions and in public is really important. Hearing some of those answers there will help me clarify some of my confusion.”

A registered independent, Love said she plans to split her vote for president and for Congress between parties in an effort to achieve bipartisan “balance,” voting for a Republican for Congress if she casts her ballot for Obama, or a Democrat for Congress if she chooses Romney.

Ignoring Ads

Other persuadable voters said they had tuned out much of what they were hearing about the presidential campaign because they would rather not listen to negative advertisements and speeches that do little to illuminate either candidate’s position.

“Most of the ads and some of those statements they make are just slamming the other person, and you don’t know whether that’s always true or not, so I don’t like them,” said Naomi McDonald, 65, of New Carlisle, Ohio. “I like it when they tell you what they’re going to do.”

McDonald said she didn’t know much about either candidate and is leaning toward voting for Romney, yet could still change her mind because she fears he may not focus on the economic challenges of people like her.

“He wants to just support the middle people -- what about us poor people?” McDonald, who sews clothing and purses to make ends meet, said of Romney. “Those people he always talks about who have businesses and that -- well, they all have money or they wouldn’t be creating jobs. I don’t know if he cares or not.”

Obama Connection

Pluralities of persuadable voters rated Romney more out of touch than Obama and chose the president as best able to understand their problems and struggles, yet large percentages - - almost 2 in 5 -- said they weren’t sure which candidate deserves those labels. They said they were better off now than they were when Obama took office, though in lower proportions than likely voters.

While they said Obama has improved the economy since he took office, it was by a smaller margin than likely voters -- 40 percent compared to 50 percent -- and almost a quarter of persuadable voters said they didn’t know.

And while likely voters disproportionately said they disagreed with Romney’s recently published comment that 47 percent of Americans are government-dependent “victims” who would never vote for him, persuadable voters were split, with 45 percent saying the Republican was right and 44 percent saying he was wrong.

To contact the reporter on this story: Julie Hirschfeld Davis in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at   or Jdavis159@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at jcummings21@bloomberg.net.

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