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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Swing vote essential for 2012

WASHINGTON — Over the next eight months, presidential campaigns will spend hundreds of millions of dollars to penetrate the suburban living rooms of people like 33-year-old Sarah Hays.

“I agree with certain parts of the philosophies of both parties,” Hays said. “I’m a Catholic, and I’m pro-life, and that’s very important to me,” she said, “but I don’t believe that pro-life means only anti-abortion.”

Hays is that rarest of people in a sharply polarized country — a swing voter — dissatisfied with both parties, crucial to either one’s hope of success. Over the last few months, as the Republican primary battle has focused on the most conservative parts of the party’s core, several polls have shown President Barack Obama making headway with self-described independents. As a result, the percentage of voters expressing approval of his performance in office has slowly risen in most recent surveys.

The latest major poll, released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, shows Obama’s job approval at 50 percent, with 41 percent disapproving. That’s a significant improvement over the same poll’s finding in January, when Obama’s approval was a net negative, 44 percent to 48 percent. The more recent poll, of 1,503 adults, including 1,188 registered voters, had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The survey also showed a notable improvement in the Democratic Party’s image among voters, with just under half seeing the party positively. The public’s overall view of the Republican Party was strikingly negative, 36 percent to 56 percent. Though the polls could certainly change again, recent interviews with voters in swing states show that arguments favorable to Obama have begun to sink in.

Since 1980, strong partisanship has swung back upward, from barely 1 in 5 voters to about 1 in 3, according to data from the American National Election Studies, a project of Stanford University and the University of Michigan.

That still leaves aside two-thirds of the electorate. The biggest chunk — some 40 percent of voters — are those who tell pollsters that they consider themselves “independent.” Far from a uniform band of centrists, the independent label covers everyone from anti-corporate pacifists on the left to tea party activists on the right. Most lean toward one party or the other, and their voting patterns can be nearly as partisan as anybody else’s, notes Michael Dimock of the Pew Research Center.

Including the independents who lean to one side or the other, the two parties have battled to rough parity. That’s why strategists in both parties expect this presidential election to end up close.
“Ten to 15 percent of the voters will decide this election,” said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew center.

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