(NEW YORK) — Americans overwhelmingly say Mitt Romney as president would do more than Barack Obama to advance the interests of financial institutions and the wealthy, and by a narrower margin see Obama as better for the middle class, according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post. But when it comes to the best champion for “you and your family” or small businesses, the two run evenly — marking the closeness of their contest overall.
These sentiments stake out the field of play in the 2012 election, dominated as it is by the public’s economic concerns. On one hand, it’s an achievement that Romney, even while tagged as the protector of the wealthy, runs competitively with Obama on who’d best advance Americans’ personal economic interests. Yet it’s notable as well that Obama runs competitively, given his poor marks for handling the economy overall.
Other elements also will inform the economic debate in the months ahead. More people think new regulations on financial institutions are too weak rather than too strong, by a 15-point margin, 38 to 23 percent. More also feel that unfairness in the economic system that favors the wealthy is a bigger problem than overregulation that stifles free enterprise.
Both of those elements may help Obama, but broader economic discontent works against him. And the public divides on whether or not they feel they have a fair chance to get ahead — a weak report on the American dream that reflects the still-sour public mood after four-plus years of downturn.
In terms of strategy, the results suggest that Obama stands little to gain from attacking Romney as the darling of the rich; partly because it’s so broadly agreed upon, views that Romney is the better proponent of the wealthy do not independently predict vote preferences. Belief that Romney would better advance the interests of financial institutions does predict his support, but comparatively mildly so.
Instead, this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, suggests that the true contest is about who’s seen as better advancing the interests of the middle class, small businesses and “you and your family.” Each of these (and they are highly correlated) strongly relates to vote preferences, even controlling for factors such as partisanship, ideology and ratings of the economy.
Overall, the survey finds that Americans by a broad 65-24 percent think Romney would do more to advance the interests of the wealthy and by 56-32 percent think he’d do more for financial institutions. On advancing the economic interests of “you and your family,” it’s 46-43 percent, Obama-Romney; on small businesses, 45-47 percent. Obama, as noted, leads by 51-42 percent in views he’d do more to advance the economic interests of the middle class.
All this matters because of the economic pain the public has withstood in recent years. More than a third of Americans, 35 percent, say they or someone in their household has lost a job in the past few years. And 71 percent say it’s happened to a close friend or relative.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio