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Opportunity Trumps Fairness with Swing Independents: A Quick Look at the Numbers

Published April 6, 2012

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Third Way’s new poll of 1,000 Independents in 12 battleground states identifies a bloc of voters who are truly up-for-grabs in 2012: the 38% of Independents we dubbed the “Swing Independents,” who don’t have strong views for or against either President Obama or Governor Romney. For Swing Independents, the fairness argument increasingly touted by many on the left falls short; instead they want to hear an optimistic message of opportunity.

#1: Swing Independents are up for grabs.

  • President Obama has an advantage with Swing Independents, who went for him 35% to 29% over Romney, with 36% undecided. When pressed, 9% of the undecided said they leaned towards the President and 9% towards Romney. The Congressional ballot is virtually tied, with nearly 6 in 10 undecided.
  • Obama’s favorability rating is staggeringly high, with 57% holding a favorable view and only 35% an unfavorable one. Romney did not conjure such warm feelings: towards him, Swing Independents were split, 41% favorable to 40% unfavorable.
  • Swing Independents viewed Romney as fairly close to themselves ideologically. They put Obama center-left on the ideological scale and Romney center-right, but they put themselves right-of-center. However, they saw the Republican Party as significantly further right than themselves or Romney

#2: Fairness falls short with Swing Independents.

  • The supermajority of Swing Independents think the system is already basically fair, and by 3 to 1 they call themselves “haves,” not “have nots.”
  • Income inequality is at best a secondary concern. Swing Independents say 57% to 38% that the deficit is a bigger priority.
  • Fully 90% say they are confident they can pay their bills, but only 8% are strongly confident the next generation will be able to find good jobs.

#3: Opportunity resonates with Swing Independents.

  • 80% of Swing Independents say they’d prefer a candidate to focus on increasing opportunity, rather than reducing income inequality (15%).
  • When asked directly what was the most important thing we could do to make our economy stronger, a significant majority (55%) said we should “provide more economic opportunity for Americans to succeed through hard work.”

Swing Independents picked a candidate who said “more opportunity means a stronger economy” over one who said “a fairer economy means a stronger economy,” 51% to 43%.

But 63% believed the fairness message was something President Obama would say, while less than one-quarter credited him with the opportunity message.

All data from poll by Global Strategy Group for Third Way of 1,000 self-identified Independent likely voters who voted in the 2008 Presidential election in 12 swing states: CO, FL, IA, MI, NC, NH, NM, NV, OH, PA, VA, and WI. Fielded March 8-18th, 2012. Margin of Error +/- 3.1% for Independents, +/- 5.1 for Swing Independents.

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