Obama’s Race for Swing Voters With Romney Tight in Poll

In an early indicator of a potentially tight presidential race, pivotal swing voting groups are split between President Barack Obama and his Republican rival Mitt Romney, according to a Bloomberg National Poll.

A majority of suburban independents, Catholics, and working-class voters earning $75,000 to $99,999, voted for Obama in 2008 and then switched to Republicans in 2010, exit polls show. According to the Bloomberg poll, suburban independents now are roughly split between Romney and Obama, while the president is favored by the working class and married moms, another voting bloc being targeted by both campaigns. Catholics are divided, as the whole group leans Obama even as white Catholics favor Romney, according to the survey conducted June 15-18.

The results suggest that these groups, who helped determine the outcome of the last two election cycles, are once again up for grabs in 2012 general election.

“These are voters who split their tickets,” said J. Ann Selzer, head of Des Moines, Iowa-based Selzer & Co., which conducted the poll of 734 likely voters. “They are approaching the upcoming election with less enthusiasm, and are less likely to have locked into their candidate than the average voter,” she said.

Suburban Independents

Forty-five percent of suburban independents in the survey back Obama compared to 43 percent who support Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, within the margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points. At the same time, 49 percent rate Romney, a former executive at the Boston-based private equity firm Bain Capital LLC, best to revive the economy compared to 41 percent who name Obama.

Married mothers back Obama in the poll 50 percent to 46 percent. Yet they are even more likely to choose Romney as best to get the economy moving -- 53 percent say so, compared to 39 percent who say Obama is best.

“Obama, to me, has been ineffective and there are a lot of things I wish were better,” said Cathy Doss of Hurt, Virginia, a poll respondent who voted for Obama in 2008 and plans to do so again in November. “But I would almost rather have ineffective than harmful, and I feel like Romney’s worse. I fear even less policing of industry, and I just fear that Romney would be pleasing certain interest groups that would not benefit me where I’m located on the pay scale -- lower to middle.”

Romney Economy Advantage

Still Doss, 50, a part-time librarian and mother of one who has been searching unsuccessfully for a full-time job, is conflicted over her choice, saying Romney might be best to get the economy going again.

“I feel he could do damage, but I honestly do feel that maybe because of his business experience, of the two, he’s not my ideal choice, but I’m kind of to the point of, something’s got to be done, something positive’s got to be done, so maybe he should have a shot at doing it,” Doss said.

Her seemingly contradictory views help illuminate the dilemma facing swing voters, who typically pay less attention to the presidential race while being heavily courted by both parties, and decide how they will vote late in the contest.

Obama won many of these voters in 2008, when he had a four-point advantage over the Republican nominee, Arizona Senator John McCain, with married moms, a 7-point advantage with suburban independents and a 9-point edge with Catholics. Working voters earning $75,000 to $99,999 favored Obama 51 percent to 48 percent over McCain.

Obama, Romney Split

In the Bloomberg poll, those working-class voters are backing Obama 51 percent to Romney’s 42 percent. Fifty-eight percent of them rate Romney as more out of touch with average Americans than Obama, while 39 percent say the president is more aloof.

Catholics also name Romney as more out of touch, 54 percent to Obama’s 39 percent. The gap is smaller -- yet still significant -- among suburban independents. Half of them rate Romney more out of touch compared to 37 percent for Obama, while married moms name Romney the more disconnected at 51 percent to Obama’s 41 percent.

At the same time, both groups say they like the idea of electing a chief executive officer as president. The experience is viewed as a positive by 46 percent of married moms and 56 percent of suburban independents.

CEO Experience

“Romney, due to some of his business experience, may have an easier time negotiating with Congress,” said Tathum Infante, 30, an independent from Aston, Pennsylvania who participated in the poll and plans to back the Republican ticket. “I’m not thrilled about Romney, I just like him more than Obama because I don’t feel that Obama has gotten a handle on the spending, and I don’t think that he’s proven to be a very effective executive.”

Other voters are skeptical of Romney’s ability to translate his business experience into effective leadership in the White House

“I think he’s too rich to be the president,” Cathy Leather, 52, a teacher from Los Gatos, California, who participated in the poll said of Romney. “He just, from my point of view, represents the interests of corporate America, and I think that’s not a direction that is really going to help right now.”

Doesn’t Blame Obama

Leather, an independent who voted for Obama in 2008, has been disappointed with the economy during his term yet says she doesn’t blame the president, nor does she believe he or any other White House occupant could do better. “I don’t know that anything either one of them can do is going to make a difference. I’m just not sure the policies can affect what’s going on out there -- it’s cyclical,” Leather said in a follow-up interview.

In another mark of the fluidity among swing voters, many appear to be planning to split their political allegiances in November’s elections, voting for a president of one party while choosing a member of Congress from another. For instance, married moms give the edge to Obama for the presidency, 50 percent, to 46 percent for Romney, while leaning toward Republican House candidates over Democrats, 45 percent to 42 percent.

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