Other questions also revealed close divisions that have not changed appreciably over the past couple of years. Thirty-two percent of those surveyed said that Obama’s agenda would increase opportunity for people like them to get ahead; 34 percent said that it would diminish their opportunities (the remaining 29 percent said that it would have no impact). Those overall numbers have varied only slightly since December 2010. Going back even earlier, to January 2010, no more than one in four whites have said that Obama’s agenda would increase their opportunities.
Likewise, 45 percent said that Obama’s economic policies helped to “avoid an even worse economic crisis and are laying the foundation for our eventual economic recovery,” while a comparable 46 percent agreed that Obama has “run up a record federal deficit while failing to end the recession or slow the record pace of job losses.” Those numbers have varied remarkably little all seven times the Heartland Monitor has posed that question. Similar stability defines attitudes on a third key question that the poll has tested repeatedly, on the effect of Obama’s overall agenda. Thirty-seven percent say that the country is “significantly worse off” because of Obama’s policies. Only 12 percent say that the nation is already “significantly better off” because of his efforts, but 47 percent still say that his program is moving the country in the right direction, even if it has not produced significant benefits yet. Those numbers have barely budged since April 2010.
A final set of new questions captures how closely divided, and conflicted, voters are today. Asked to assess the two rivals based on a series of traits, more adults deemed Obama as more likely to offer policies that promote opportunity for all, would benefit people like them, and would be better for future generations. But more also said that Romney stood a greater chance of bringing the deficit under control, and they gave the former governor an edge (46 percent to 40 percent) on perhaps the most salient question in this election, that of who “has the experience and skills needed to improve the economy.” (Whites preferred Romney
Yet when voters were asked how they thought their personal finances would fare over the next few years, slightly more said they would be better off under Obama (40 percent) than Romney (37 percent). This election is already teetering on a knife’s edge, and the economy’s performance in the months ahead may well decide which way it falls.
This article appears in the June 9, 2012, edition of National Journal.