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Eye of the beholder: New poll shows voters attribute different economic strengths to Romney, Obama

Published: Monday, May 21 2012 2:46 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Although American voters generally agree that the U.S. economy needs to improve, a new USA Today/Gallup poll shows that their opinions significantly vary as to what they believe the most important indicators are for measuring economic recovery.

"Unless the U.S. economy suddenly takes off, the next president will likely be expected to juggle a number of challenging economic problems," Gallup summarized. "Americans see the most important of these as healthcare costs, the federal budget deficit and unemployment. However, neither Obama nor Romney is perceived as superior on all three. Rather, Americans see Obama as better for healthcare costs, see Romney as better for the deficit and have no clear candidate preference when it comes to unemployment."

Piggybacking off the poll results, USA Today published a cover story Monday suggesting that Americans support either Mitt Romney or Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential race depending largely upon how the voters hope to see economic recovery take shape.

"Americans have different and sometimes conflicting priorities on the economy and clashing expectations about what's ahead," Susan Page wrote for USA Today. "The uneven impact of the Great Recession and the uncertainty of the recovery have shaped those divergent views and with them the campaign appeals of President Obama and likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney."

The USA Today analysis breaks down the American electorate into five different groups according to their "perspectives about what's wrong and who can fix it":

  • Downbeats: The most conservative and reliably Republican group, the Downbeats share a gloomy view of nation's situation.
  • Thriving: The largest group with the highest education and income levels, everyone in this group believes their standard of living will improve during the next decade.
  • Hard-Pressed: People who are worse off financially today than a year ago.
  • Upbeats: Steadfastly optimistic about economy's future.
  • 99 Percenters: Most liberal and Democratic faction; think "Occupy Wall Street."

Downbeats and Thriving strongly prefer Romney and jointly constitute 51 percent of voters, and both groups believe the federal deficit is the most pressing economic issue. Hard-Pressed, Upbeats and 99 Percenters lean heavily toward Obama and account for 49 percent of voters; top economic issues vary from group to group and include health care costs (Hard-Pressed), the net worth of retirement and savings accounts (Upbeats) and disproportionate distribution of wealth (99 Percenters).

"The survey points to core strengths for both Romney and Obama, with voters inclined to believe Romney would be better for growth, and that Obama is addressing core middle class priorities," Politico's Byron Tau wrote Monday. "That's largely in line with the themes that both candidates have focused on: Obama has made college affordability and health care central to his administration, while Romney has staked his campaign on the claim of better being able to create jobs."

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