Two-thirds of the 99 Percenters predict the economy will improve over the next four years only if Obama wins. Among the Downbeats, 84% predict the economy will improve only if Romney wins. Among the just-getting-by Hard-Pressed, a Democratic-leaning group, 69% don't expect the economy to get better no matter who wins.
Evenly matched but not the same
Americans see the president and the former Massachusetts governor each as having significant strengths in handling the economy -- but different ones.
In the overall national poll, Obama was favored over Romney by double-digits on three fronts: handling living standards for the poor, the concentration of wealth and the cost of a college education. Romney was favored over Obama by double-digits on three fronts: dealing with the deficit and debt, the financial performance of savings and retirement investments, and economic growth.
Obama had a smaller, 7 percentage-point advantage on handling the cost of health care, and Romney had a narrow 3-point edge on managing government regulation. They were within a point or two of one another on dealing with the issues of unemployment, home values and foreclosures.
The nationwide poll of 1,012 adults, taken May 10-13, had a margin of error of +/- 4 points.
That scorecard makes them look evenly matched. (Romney does have an advantage on somewhat higher-ranking concerns than Obama does, including the No. 1 deficit issue.) But their contrasting profiles seem designed to fit different situations. That's one reason the state of the economy this year is likely to have such a strong impact on the election outcome, and not only because it reflects on Obama's tenure.
If the economy is in crisis, Romney would be preferred to handle such macro problems as boosting growth and protecting investments.
If a stable recovery is underway, Obama would be favored on managing more personal financial issues, such as the costs of college and health care.
"The best thing about President Obama is he knows what it's like to be poor and worried, and not like Romney, who was born with a silver spoon," says Laura Marantette, 52, of Gooding, Idaho. She falls in the Democratic-leaning Upbeats, a group that is generally optimistic about the economy's future. It includes the highest proportion of blacks, women and moderates.
Mike Rogers, 31, a technology consultant from Bellevue, Ky., voted for Obama four years ago and credits him with doing "some good things," but he is inclined to support Romney. He falls in the Republican-leaning Thriving group, the largest category and the one with the highest education and income levels and the most young people.
"I do think he will do a better job," Rogers says of Romney, noting his experience as a governor and as head of a "jobs-incubator company," the Bain Capital private-equity firm. "I think he has a better grasp of the business principles and the economic principles."
Rogers' top economic issue: "The rate at which our GDP is growing," which is to say, the Gross Domestic Product, the basic measure of the economy's health, is not growing fast enough.
Just 'staying afloat'
The economic pain of the recession wasn't shared equally, presumably one reason why expectations of what's ahead are so different.
Most of the Hard-Pressed say they are worse off financially than they were a year ago -- that helps explain their moniker -- while most of the 99 Percenters say they are better off. Consider this divide: Every single member of the Thriving group (37% of the population) is confident that his or her standard of living will improve over the next decade. Among the Hard-Pressed and the Downbeats (a total of 24% of the population), not a single person expresses confidence about that.
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