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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Third Way: Obama Has Edge in ‘Likeability’ with Swing Voters, But Needs Stronger ‘Opportunity’ Message

James Hohmann has a perceptive post up at Politico, which sheds some light on the presidential preferences of swing voters. Noting a new poll of “swing Independents” in a dozen ‘battleground states’ by Global Strategy for Third Way, Hohmann explains:

The majority of those who call themselves politically independent typically lean toward one major party or the other, but about 15 percent of the total electorate (roughly 40 percent of independents) are thought to authentically swing between parties.
Obama won 57 percent of this group in 2008. In this poll, which took place in mid-March, he led Romney 44 percent to 38 percent. those who prioritize growth and ‘opportunity’ against those who prioritize redistribution and ‘fairness.’
Yet when asked to assign a number on a scale of one to nine (one being liberal, nine being conservative and five being moderate), the swing independents put themselves at an average of 5.2 — slightly right of center — ranking Romney at 6.1 and Obama at 3.9.

Hohmann ads that “Obama is viewed favorably by 57 percent. Only 41 percent of the swing independents said the same for Romney.” But he also notes an edge in generic ballot for Republicans over Democrats and a 39-35 percent margin favoring Republicans among “swing independents.” Hohmann also discusses the differences over Democratic messaging among “those who prioritize growth and ‘opportunity’ against those who prioritize redistribution and ‘fairness.'” Hohmann explains further,

The independents were angriest about congressional gridlock, the national debt and Wall Street bailouts — in that order. But a higher percentage said they were “worried” about the next generation’s ability to achieve the American Dream and America falling behind its global competitors than Wall Street bailouts.
…In surveys and focus groups, Third Way has consistently found that independents in the battlegrounds see “fairness” differently than elites inside the Beltway. Asked what was “the most fair” of three options, 36 percent of swing independents said making the wealthy pay higher taxes, 33 percent said making everyone pay a flat tax and 27 percent said it would be fairest to make everyone (no matter how little they earned) pay something in taxes.
Asked whether fixing the budget deficit or reducing the income gap is more important, swing independents preferred the former 57 percent to 38 percent. Even emphasizing that the focus on income inequality is “to help the middle class” did little to move to the needle in the poll.

Hohmann quotes Lanae Erickson, the deputy director of Third Way’s social policy and politics program, who says of President Obama “He really needs to pivot and make sure that he’s focused on the opportunity message much, much more than the fairness message if he’s going to get it heard by these folks.”

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