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President Obama and Mitt Romney are deadlocked among likely voters as they prepare to square off in their first presidential debate, according to the latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll.
The survey showed that voters remain resistant to either Obama or Romney holding full control of the federal government.
Obama and Romney each pulled in 47 percent support in the poll among likely voters. It is among the narrowest margins of several presidential surveys published ahead of the debate this week. Other polls have shown the president with a slim lead. In this survey, while the race is tied among likely voters, Obama has a 5-point lead, 49 percent to 44 percent, among registered voters.
The survey was conducted Sept. 27-30 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.
Romney led in the poll among independents, 49 percent to 41 percent, with both candidates winning more than 90 percent support from their respective parties. The survey had Obama winning 81 percent of the nonwhite vote and Romney carrying 55 percent of white voters.
In estimating the turnout on Nov. 6, the poll projects an electorate that is 74 percent white, 11 percent African-American, and 8 percent Latino. The likely-voter party splits are 36 percent Democratic, 29 percent Republican, and 30 percent independent.
The estimates are similar to the 2008 turnout, when, according to CNN exit polling, 74 percent of voters were white, 13 percent black, and 9 percent Latino, with Democratic turnout at 39 percent, Republicans at 32 percent, and independents at 29 percent.
The poll also asked voters which party they would prefer to control the Congress. Democrats were favored there. A slim plurality of likely voters said they preferred that Democrats win enough seats to control the House and keep hold of the Senate, a positive sign for the party five weeks out from the election.
For the House, 45 percent of likely voters said they hoped the Democrats would win a majority, while 43 percent said they preferred that Republicans stay in charge. The margin grew slightly, 45 percent to 41 percent, among registered voters. The result is nearly unchanged from April 2012 (then 46 percent to 43 percent among registered voters) and October 2011 (then 43 percent to 41 percent among registered voters).
In the Senate, 47 percent of registered voters said they preferred Democrats stay in power, compared with 42 percent who hoped Republicans would win the four net seats needed to take control. That represents a slight dip in Democratic support from April 2012, when 50 percent of voters favored the Democrats compared with 39 percent who preferred the GOP.
Few independent analysts give the Democrats much of a chance to win the House in November, but control of the Senate is very much up for grabs.
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The poll offered warning signs for both parties.
Whoever wins the presidency, voters don’t want to give the winner’s party a blank check to run the federal government. A solid majority of likely voters (55 percent) said that if Obama is reelected, they still hope that Republicans keep at least one chamber of Congress. Similarly, more than six in 10 voters said that if Romney wins, they prefer that Democrats keep at least one chamber “so they can act as a check” on his agenda.
The desire to curb whichever party is in power is shared by Democrats and Republicans alike. Among Romney supporters, 32 percent still hope for Democrats to control at least one chamber. And among Obama backers, 23 percent want Republicans to wield the gavel in the House, the Senate, or both.
Notably, fewer than one in 10 likely voters said they didn’t want a check on either the Romney or Obama agenda.
The poll’s findings represent yet another expression of public uneasiness with both political parties. Voters don’t trust either alone to govern, and they appear to hope the two sides will be able to bridge their differences.
Not that the public appears bullish on the possibility.
Asked why unemployment remains so high, a 53 percent majority blamed “fighting between Democrats and Republicans [that] has blocked needed government action.” Only 16 percent said it was because politicians in Washington have not “come up with any good ideas;” 19 percent said it was because there simply isn’t much that political leaders could do to reduce unemployment.
The results echoed earlier surveys, in July 2012 and October 2011, in which majorities of 52 percent and 54 percent, respectively, blamed “fighting between Democrats and Republicans” as the main reason for persistent high unemployment.
Much of official Washington has been frozen in conflict since Republicans were swept into the House in 2010, with Democrats controlling the Senate and Obama occupying the White House. The infighting, particularly sharp during the debt-ceiling battle during the summer of 2011 that led to the nation’s credit rating being cut for the first time, has clearly made an impression on voters.
After nearly two years of GOP rule in the House, voters believe that Democratic leaders in Congress are more likely to “genuinely seek compromise with a president from the other party.”
Forty-five percent of voters said Democratic leaders were more likely to compromise, while 31 percent said Republicans were, and 8 percent volunteered that neither party was more likely to do so.
The divide among partisans was telling. Far more Democrats viewed their own leaders as more willing to compromise (81 percent) than Republicans did (66 percent). Among independents, 40 percent saw Democrats as more willing to compromise, compared with only 30 percent for Republicans.
This article appears in the October 3, 2012, edition of NJ Daily.