Pew’s Voter Survey Gives Romney a Surprising Edge
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The Fiscal Times
September 25, 2012

Maybe Mitt Romney had a point. For all the uproar over Romney’s secretly videotaped comments essentially writing off 47 percent of the American public as moochers,  and for all the pronouncements that his gaffe-ridden, or “inelegant,” campaign is toast, the demoralized Republican camp can perhaps find a glimmer of hope in the results of a new voter survey released Monday by The Pew Research Center.

The survey found that 87 percent of registered voters say the economy will be very important in determining their vote and 83 percent say the jobs picture will be a similar priority. Those two issues have stayed at the top of voters’ minds, as they were in 2008, while matters such as energy, terrorism and immigration have fallen in importance compared to 2008.

While perceptions of the economy and Obama’s handling of it have improved in recent polls, the Romney campaign scored on another point: the voting public’s continuing preference for smaller government. The Pew survey found that 56 percent of registered voters prefer a smaller government providing fewer services, while 35 percent say they want a bigger government providing more services. Four years ago, according to Pew, the split between those two views was significantly narrower, with opinion favoring smaller government by 46 percent to 40 percent.

Just as important for Romney, opinions about the size of government actually correlate with voting decisions more than in election cycles dating back to 1976, the Pew survey found. “This gap in terms of the correlation with the vote has been around for a long time, but it’s never been larger,” says Pew’s Carroll Doherty. “This divides Obama and Romney voters perhaps more cleanly than any other issue.”

The Pew findings follow a Gallup poll released a week ago that also suggests that Romney’s anti-government line might find favor with a majority of Americans. That poll, conducted from September 6 to 9 – well before news of the Romney video had spread – asked 1,017 U.S. adults whether the government is doing too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses or should be doing more “to solve our country’s problems.” It found that 54 percent said the government is doing too much – about the same as the 53-plus percent Romney was, in essence, referring to as reachable – while 39 percent say the government should do more to solve the country’s problems.

And while the partisan split on the question is predictable – 82 percent of Republicans say it’s doing too much, while 67 percent of Democrats say it should do more – independents tend to fall on the side of smaller government, with 62 percent in the Gallup poll agreeing that government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses. Only 29 percent believe the government should be doing more.

Executive Editor Yuval Rosenberg oversees coverage of business, the economy, technology and Wall Street. A former web editor at WNYC, Fortune and Newsweek, he also writes on a wide range of subjects.