Voter survey gives Romney a surprising edge

While perceptions of the economy and President Obama's handling of it have improved, the public also likes Romney's theme of smaller government.

By The Fiscal Times Sep 26, 2012 8:50AM

The Fiscal Times logoBy Yuval Rosenberg

Maybe Mitt Romney had a point. For all the uproar over his 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."

Voters' Preference for Smaller Government Persists - Pew Research 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.

Pollsters note that Americans have consistently tended to prefer the idea of smaller government, and only rarely have said that government should do more. "Other people have asked this question over the years and for the most part, with few exceptions, you get majorities on the side of smaller government with fewer services," says Pew's Carroll Doherty.

The proper size and role of government has been the subject of public and political debate in the U.S. since even before the country was founded and has come to the fore again and again over the last 50 years. Romney's themes are certainly familiar. In accepting the Republican presidential nomination in 1964, Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater – the original "Mr. Conservative" – said, "I know that the road to freedom is a long and a challenging road. I know also that some men may walk away from it, that some men resist challenge, accepting the false security of governmental paternalism…. We must assure a society here which, while never abandoning the needy or forsaking the helpless, nurtures incentives and opportunity for the creative and the productive."

And with the country mired in economic malaise, President Reagan famously told the nation in his 1981 inaugural address that "government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem."

Romney may not seem the likeliest of candidates to carry that mantle, but he has tried to capitalize on those sentiments and shift his videotaped "47 percent" comments – which even conservatives like Bill Kristol derided as "arrogant and stupid" – back into a broader battle about the role of government. In the days since the videotape was posted on the website of Mother Jones magazine, Romney has sought to draw a sharp contrast between what he calls Obama's "government-centric" view and his own view that "government works best when it creates the space for individuals and families to pursue success and achieve great things."

"The president's vision is one of a larger and larger government with trillion-dollar deficits that promises everything to everyone," Romney told CBS's "60 Minutes" in an interview that aired Sunday. "That's the course that he has laid out. His policy for the economy is more stimulus, more government spending. My course is very different than that. Mine says make government smaller. Don't build these massive deficits that pass debt on to our kids, rebuild the foundation of America's strength with great homes, great schools, with entrepreneurship and innovation. Keep government as a, if you will, facilitator of freedom in America. But don't have government take away the rights and the freedoms of the American people."

The Gallup poll suggests Romney may have work to do in convincing Americans, though, as the portion of Americans who want government to do less has fallen from 61 percent earlier this summer. And Americans seem evenly divided, according to Gallup, on whether government has too much power, with a slim majority saying that it does – down from 59 percent in 2010.

The bigger problem Romney may face is the inevitable need to get specific about cuts, because while a majority of Americans may like the idea of shrinking government it's much harder to find a consensus on where and how much to slash. "When you get to the specifics of how to reduce the size of government there's a lot more disagreement," says Doherty. "The public still has a long way to go in terms of making that leap from support of smaller government in principle to actually supporting cuts in specific programs."

Reagan succeeded by keeping the debate "at a philosophical level," says Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. "I don't think Romney has been as skilled," he says. Romney's choice of Rep. Paul Ryan to be his running mate hasn't helped, Zelizer says, because it brought Ryan's specific proposals for Medicare and the federal budget into the campaign. "It's about the framing," says Zelizer. "Mitt Romney is trying hard to get away from some of the particulars and hoping to gain traction again that way."

Yuval Rosenberg is the Business+Economy editor at The Fiscal Times. Subscribe to The Fiscal Times free newsletter.

More from The Fiscal Times

Sep 26, 2012 5:38PM

Almost everyone is for a smaller, less wasteful government.  However, no one, especially members of Congress, want to give up their favorite programs or pork barrel projects. Sen. Tom Coburn publishes a book every year outlining wasteful spending.  Here are some examples from his 2011 edition, and these don't even cover the really big things like the "War of Drugs", Medicare fraud, Food Stamp fraud, DOD waste, tax cheating, ag subsidies, ethanol subsidies, purchasing waste, and on and on.

1. Politicians Partying on the Taxpayer Dime – (Presidential Election Campaign Fund) $35.38 Million

2. Mangled Mango Effort Could Hurt Farmers It Meant to Help – (Pakistan) $30 Million

3. Poor Planning Hobbles Air Force Green Energy Effort – (Department of Defense) $14 Million

4. Subsidy Program for Small Airports Fails to Help Most Recipients Achieve Sustainable Air Service – (Federal Aviation Administration) $6 Million

5. Paying for Pancakes – (Washington, D.C.) $765,828

6. The Super-Bridge to Nowhere –(Alaska) $15.3 Million

7. Dead Federal Employees Continue to Get Benefits Checks – (U.S. Office of Personnel Management) $120 Million

8. Extreme Home Makeover: Federal Highway Funds to Transform Abandoned ―Rock House‖ into Visitors Center –(Oklahoma) $529,689

9. Video Game Preservation – (New York) $113,277

10. Millions In Foreign Aid to… China?– (Department of State & U.S. Agency for International Development) $17.80 Million

11. Drug-Themed “Mellow Mushroom” Pizza Restaurant – (TX) $484,000

12. Fruit Growers Receive Money for Celebrity Chef Show in Indonesia –(WA) $100,000

13.Remake of“Sesame Street” for Pakistan – (U.S. Agency for International Development) $10 Million

14. Money for Magic Museum – (MI) $147,138

15. Critics Question Why Taxpayer Money Went to an International Architecture Firm – (CA) $1 Million

16. Back in the USSR! Documentary About How Rock and Roll Contributed to the Collapse of the Soviet Union – (CA) $550,000

17. TVs and Gas Generators for Rural Vietnamese Villages – (PA) $702,558

18.The 2nd Annual Hawaii Chocolate Festival – (HI) $48,700

19.Children, Prisoners, and Others Who Don’t Own Homes Awarded Energy Efficient Home Improvement Tax Credits (Internal RevenueService) – $1 Billion

20.Stimulating Online Soap Operas – (Department of Commerce) $936,818

Sep 27, 2012 4:45PM
Although I am registered Independent, I'm glad Romney said what he said.  While the exact context and target were perhaps misdirected or otherwise unclear, I think it resonated with so many people because it seems to hit so close to home.

The bottom line is that we have way too many folks in this country living off of someone else.  Whether it be taxpayers, parents, the government, or anyone who has a little scratch built up, there always seems to be a ready line of moochers handy to relieve them of their purported excesses.

I will concede that it is more difficult to make it in this country than ever before, but difficult does not mean impossible.  Most people who bemoan their circumstances are simply not doing enough to make sure that they make ends meet.  They'll make a few minor changes, mostly temporary, or pick up a side job here and there, again temporary, but the harder changes, such as evaluating one's current dwelling and reconsidering insane amounts of monthly expense drains such as cell phones and cable, are indeed out of the question.

That mentions nothing for the folks who don't want to pull their own weight for any reason, and the people who allow them to exist without contributing.  It's a farce to see someone who is completely capable drain resources from someone else because they're related or whatever.

That being said, you have to fake it until you make it, and that includes finances as well.  If people continue to complain about their situation instead of taking initiative and making changes, then expect the truth to come out from many other people in addition to Romney, because able bodied folks are tired of continually supporting other able bodied folks.
Sep 26, 2012 11:57AM
This poll actually reflects what I am hearing by almost everyone I talk to. It nice to see the media release these enlightments since the liberal voters control them.  I believe the election, if conducted fairly, will reflect the honest view of the american voter - they are tired of falce promises and out of control spending with too big a government. 
Sep 28, 2012 12:08PM
there's only only one survey that counts...and that is the november vote
Sep 27, 2012 1:39PM
The poll is interesting since almost every poll befor this shows Obama winning. The reality is many people will vote for Obama because they di befor and the polls are telling everyone to vote for him essentially! Lets take the NHL LA KIngs hardly anyone displayed Stickers,flags & jerseys. Know that the Kings won the Stanley cup the fans demonstrating loyalty is doubled because people simply want to be recognized as a winner. Obama has a horrible foreign policy first, second he campaigned that he going to bring our troops home and instead he just moved them to afghanistan. Im not a Bush-Cheney fan but the Financial collapse was more from the D-regulation of the financial institutions that were set forth by Clinton administration. The media talks to Bush doubling the national debt and Obama comes in selling everyone on change and doubles the national debt! Its simple everyone is expected to manage their own finaces but yet the federal government has an open check book. Oh I know lets go back again and blame Bush for everything! One word for Obama/democratic party: "ACCOUNTABILITY" stop blaming Bush and Cheney!
Sep 28, 2012 10:31AM
Presidential hopefuls arguing for smaller government is like the Pope arguing for smaller churches. Just like Congress; 6 figure incomes with more perks than Folgers, perpetual vacations, seemingly limitless campaign funds, self-assigned raises, and feeble arguments they are doing their best to pull out the rug (red carpet?) they are standing on.  
Sep 28, 2012 1:06PM
Tax rates raised to 75% just means you move your business to Singapore. 0% capital gains and 0% dividends. Free trade agreements allow even larger sums to be saved in the move. I will say with 100% certainty, tax revenues will decline in France because of this measure. They always do.
Sep 29, 2012 2:21AM

After this election, pollsters will go back to the drawing board to figure out how they could have been so far off base.

Americans are fed up with waste, spending, debt, unemployment, wars, big government, high fuel & food prices; broken promises, outlandish White House spending sprees, a barrage of liberal lies and half-truths; Libya attack coverups; what have I missed?

The 2008 elections were a sign of things to come, IMHO.

Sep 27, 2012 11:01AM
Many industries need to be regulated.
Sep 28, 2012 11:49PM
LCTKOL, I bet you are not a financial planner or have even passed a a single business class. Foreign millionaires don't hide their money in tax shelters in the US. You pay so little in taxes that no one would notice if you stopped. You use more than you pay in. You libtards are pathetic whiney freeloaders.
Sep 26, 2012 1:35PM

the polls are so bias and just plain fake and made up numbers!

they pretend his majesty has already won! that's what they want

people to think! it's bogus! it's ****! it's typical liberal hogwash!

notice none of the bias media is doing any stories on obama's failed

agendas! none of high energy food gas prices! none on the violence!

none on the failed stimulus and gm bankrupt bailout and chevy volt!

none on the amount of people on foodstamps and welfare! anybody

who votes for this guy is getting freebies and wants to stay on the gravy

train or left wing liberal nutjob or 1% rich liberals who are getting stimulus

money and bailouts and political favors!!!!

Sep 28, 2012 12:41PM
There are a lot of places we can cut back on the Federal Government.  The Republican caused recession has pretty much reduced State and Local governments to bare bones.  The Sequestration Budget that will go into effect in January 2013 will pretty much reduce the military by about 1/3, but it will put several hundred thousand Americans out of work - If you want another major recession, you should hope that this Sequester stays in effect - It definitely will give you a smaller Federal Government - Just what you were hoping for!!!  You should go out and celebrate!!!  While you can still afford it!!
Sep 27, 2012 8:04AM
This article produced by the Fiscal Times (not the Financial Times which is a legitimate news organization). The Fiscal Times is the vanity publishing company created by Pete Peterson (real name Georgios Petropoulos) a Wall Street bankster who made billions taking the Blackstone Group public before the crash in 08. He's already spent HALF A BILLION cash (er, SPEECH) to brainwash Americans into believing that cuts in social programs are our ONLY HOPE, and he's pledged another BILLION in propaganda money. He learned the political ropes in Tricky Dick Nixon's administration. Consider the source. You can look it up.
Sep 27, 2012 8:04PM








Sep 29, 2012 1:16PM
In an interview with “60 Minutes” on CBS, broadcast on Sept. 23, Romney said it is fair for him to pay a lower tax rate than a worker making the median annual income of about $50,000.

What does the middle class think of that?
Sep 26, 2012 9:19AM
So senior citizen Republicans want less government?  Does this mean they want to give up Social Security/Medicare and spend less on the military?
Sep 28, 2012 12:54PM

Another point for you financial wizards of the Republican Party.  France just raised their tax rate on Millionaires to 75% !!! Wow, I guess they will be looking for tax shelters in the US!!! And you people think your 33% rate (or 15% for 'Investors') is outrageous?!!  You need to get back into the 'real world'.  You have been living in Wonderland for little too long.  There is a reason for a 'progressive' tax structure - its called FAIRNESS.  I pay for the roads you use for your business, I pay for the airports you use, for your police protection, for education for your workers, for the water systems and the sewers that collect your $hit.  Don't ever tell me you did it yourself.  Most of the places in Alaska are just wilderness - you should go there and "Do it all by yourself!"  What a laugh!

Sep 27, 2012 1:34AM

The thing is, Obama doesn't advocate bigger government either. That's just a myth, perpetrated by the Republicans, to scare people into thinking big goverment is threatening to control them all. And they'd say that about any Democrat president. They just try and make it look even scarier with Obama, because he's black, and has a foreign sounding name. Really dopey, when you think about it.

Anyway, look at Bush-Cheney, and try and argue small government. The whole thing makes no sense. I think what people should be giving deeper thought to, even though I understand it's a chore for many, is what kinds of government are good for the people and the upward progress of this country, and which kinds are harmful, benefitting only the relative few at the top?

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