The U.S. economy is improving, and President Barack Obama isn’t getting the credit for it. That was the message from a panel of 12 uncommitted Fairfax County, Virginia, voters gathered yesterday by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center.
None of the voters said they believed the economy was on a downward trajectory. The most optimistic person in the room, a 60-year-old president of an online auction house, was leaning toward Republican challenger Mitt Romney after voting for Obama in 2008.
“I kind of feel tricked by Obama,” said Charles C’deBaca. “I really believed him.”
With less than two months before the Nov. 6 election, the Romney and Obama campaigns are spending millions of dollars on television advertising and outreach to win over undecided or persuadable voters.
Virginia, with 13 electoral votes, is one of the larger battleground states. A Washington Post poll out today shows Obama with an 8 percentage-point advantage over Romney in the state.
Asked by pollster Peter Hart, who led the focus group, for an example of how he’d been “tricked” by Obama, C’deBaca pointed to Obama’s health-care law, which the president said was not a “tax.” Upholding the law, the U.S. Supreme Court said it was.
Like C’deBaca, others at the focus group said they felt better about the economy and less certain about the president.
“I’m slightly more optimistic than slightly optimistic,” Pamela Zacha said. The 64-year-old single mother of two adult children identified herself as “totally undecided.”
Yet by the end of the two-hour session, she said Republican challenger Mitt Romney addresses her top concern -- the kind of economy in store for her sons’ generation -- perhaps more than Obama.
“He seems more realistic,” she said. “He understands business.”
Focus group participants also mentioned foreign policy, including the recent attacks on U.S. embassies in the Middle East, as well as Medicare and education as issues that could affect how they vote in the presidential election.
Several said they planned to make up their minds after watching the three presidential debates scheduled for next month. The first will be held Oct. 3 in Denver.
Mary Barker, another undecided member of the group, said she was waiting to feel an “emotional” connection to either of the candidates.
Still, much of the two-hour discussion focused on the economy.
Christina Lindemer, a 26-year-old coastal engineer, said many of her peers were finding work and buying homes after struggling in the early post-college years. “We’re all starting to get our footing,” she said.
Virginia, like every state except North Dakota and Michigan, saw its economic health decline between the first quarter of 2009 and the same three-month period this year, according to the Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States.
Virginians have been hurt by falling home prices, while personal income and employment in the state have increased. The state’s unemployment rate was 7.4 percent in July, compared with a national rate of 8.3 percent that month, and 8.1 percent in August.
Lindemer, who voted for Obama in 2008, said she is leaning toward him again. Asked by Hart why she wasn’t more solidly pro-Obama, Lindemer said, Romney’s “history of working well with the other party” appeals to her. Romney was governor of Massachusetts, where the legislature is dominated by Democrats.