Yes, it’s STILL the economy in battleground Ohio.
President Obama leads Mitt Romney by 5 percentage points — 51 percent to 46 percent — among likely voters in the first The Blade/Ohio Newspaper Organization poll of the 2012 election. The Ohio Newspaper Organization is made up of the eight largest newspapers in the state, including The Blade.
That 5-point margin matches Mr. Obama’s advantage when survey participants were asked which candidate would do the better job of improving economic conditions in Ohio.
“Clearly, how Ohioans view the two candidates in terms of their ability to improve Ohio’s economy over the next four years will go a long way in determining who wins Ohio’s 18 electoral votes,” said Eric Rademacher, co-director of the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati, which conducted the poll for the state’s eight largest newspapers.
“Ninety-five percent of voters who say Romney would do best on the economy choose Romney for president, 96 percent of voters who say Obama would do best pick Obama.”
But with the election more than six weeks away — and four debates, numerous candidate visits, and tens of millions of dollars’ worth of ads targeting Ohioans still on their way — Mr. Rademacher predicted that “voters may be in for a wild ride this fall.”
Political leaders in northwest Ohio differed on how well the poll captures the political trends in Ohio.
OHIO NEWSPAPER ORGANIZATION
The participating papers are:
The Blade, the Plain Dealer of Cleveland, The Columbus Dispatch, the Akron Beacon Journal, The Cincinnati Enquirer, the Dayton Daily News, The (Canton) Repository, and The (Youngstown) Vindicator.
Ron Rothenbuhler, chairman of the Lucas County Democratic Party, said he thinks the gap has widened even further since recent release of a video showing Mr. Romney referring to 47 percent of the country as not paying taxes, dependent on government, and feeling themselves to be victims.
"I think that may have turned the corner for people, if not changing their minds, certainly solidifying their position to vote for Barack Obama," Mr. Rothenbuhler said. He predicted that Mr. Obama will do better than Mr. Romney in the first presidential debate, set for Oct. 3.
"I think he maintains that lead and potentially increases it because after that comment that was released on that tape I have seen increased activity here and demand for signs almost the next day," Mr. Rothenbuhler said.
Jon Stainbrook, chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party, dismissed the poll, saying he trusts the Rasmussen Reports poll, which shows Mr. Obama ahead of Mr. Romney 47-46 percent.
He said Mr. Romney's taped comments on nearly half of the country paying no income taxes was something the Republican base wanted to hear.
And he said the recent anti-American riots in the Middle East show that President Obama's foreign policy is a failure.
"[Mr. Obama] got a bounce from the convention, and then it evaporated and the honeymoon is over. It’s back to a dead heat, 47-46 percent," Mr. Stainbrook said.
He said that if Ohio were solidly in President Obama's camp, the President wouldn't be "bracketing" Mr. Romney's appearances in the state. He contended that the President's planned trip to Kent and Bowling Green on Wednesday was scheduled just to undercut Mr. Romney's four-city tour of the state set for Tuesday and Wednesday.
The new poll shows that Ohioans are sharply divided over what should happen to the federal health-care law now that the U.S. Supreme Court has generally upheld its legality, Mr. Obama’s stance favoring gay marriage moved voters slightly toward Mr. Romney, and a strong majority likes the federal loans given to General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC.
But the latter issue illustrates the complexity of how economic issues are affecting this year’s election.
Although the auto rescue package won approval from 58 percent of Ohio voters — and opposition from 37 percent — President Obama reaps no apparent political reward from the issue he pushed and campaigned strenuously on in Ohio visits.
Although 23 percent say the loans make them more likely to vote for Mr. Obama, 22 percent say less likely — and 54 percent say it makes no difference.
Elizabeth Feniger, 35, of Ottawa Hills, who left a law practice in 2007 to stay home with her son, said she supports the auto bailout.
"I'm happy Barack Obama did it. He's basically saved Detroit," Ms. Feniger said.
Ms. Feniger said she is economically conservative and could support Mr. Romney but disagrees with his position on social issues, especially abortion.
"I guess if he wins the election and was able to appoint a conservative justice and overturn Roe vs. Wade I'd be scared," Ms. Feniger said.
Ms. Feniger said she disagrees on Obamacare with her husband, who owns a manufacturing business.
"He says it's a huge expense. I think it's a good plan. I think everyone should have health care," Ms. Feniger said.
"I don't think anybody's happy with the economy right now but I sort of think Barack Obama has not had enough time. The social stuff is much more important to me," she said.
Linda Rae Brown, 65, a telemarketer from Cleveland who took part in the poll, supported Mr. Obama’s auto loan package, saying, “I think it was absolutely necessary. I would never want them to go bankrupt, heavens no, and I think they would have gone bankrupt if we didn’t do something.”
But then she added, “I think Obama was right on that, but I don’t think Obama has the financial understanding to run the country. I really think Romney is better equipped.”
In contrast, 66-year-old Barbara L. Hixenbaugh of Butler County near Cincinnati is sticking with Mr. Obama because “he did the right thing in the auto bailout.”
“We would have been in dire straits if that would not have happened, because of the trickle-down effect” on related industries and businesses, the retiree added. She said Mr. Obama would be better for the Ohio economy “without a doubt.”
Said Mr. Rademacher, “The automobile industry issue and the campaigning around it provide an example of why Ohio is such a difficult state to win. While this issue may help the President in one part of Ohio, it may factor less in vote decisions in other regions.
“Ohio is a complex state where an issue like ‘the economy’ means many things — for some regions, it may mean the auto industry, for others it may mean gas prices, others wages and benefits, and for still others it relates directly to unemployment.”
Gary L. Jones, 74, a lawyer who lives in Blacklick, is a registered Democrat but is voting for Romney. Mr. Jones, who has a law practice in Columbus specializing in liquor licensing, said he was put off this year when Mr. Obama said, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.”
“I went to law school at night, built my own practice, worked my ass off,” Mr. Jones said.
He said he believes Romney will better curb the nation’s skyrocketing debt and preserve Medicare and Social Security programs.
“I think he understands you can’t continue to borrow money you don’t have and spend it like a drunken sailor, which is what we are doing now. That’s really scary for me.”
The difficulty of assessing the impact of the economy on the presidential race also shows up when respondents were asked the question Ronald Reagan popularized in 1980: Are you better off now than you were four years ago?
Currently, 23 percent say better off, 36 percent worse off, and 41 percent say about the same.
Although that breakdown is hardly a font of optimism for Mr. Obama, the numbers are a little better than they were in an OHNO poll from September, 2008, that asked the same question.
In that survey, 29 percent said they were better off than four years earlier, 47 percent said worse off, and 34 percent said about the same.
Robert G. Merkle, 82, of Springfield in Clark County, a retired Wright Patterson Air Force Base physicist and aerospace engineer, said he supported Mr. Obama in 2008 and probably will again.
“I favor some kind of reform in health insurance, and he got that through in his first two years. I think that’s a great achievement. That goes clear back to President Truman …. but Obama finally got it through,” Mr. Merkle said.
Although the new poll shows that Ohioans are split four ways on Mr. Obama’s health-care law, the President can see a glimmer of hope because 48 percent overall want to keep or expand the law, compared with 44 percent who want it repealed.
The poll indicates that Democrats are slightly more likely to vote than Republicans are this year, and Obama supporters are more enthusiastic about the election than are Romney backers. However, Mr. Romney is winning independents by a large margin.
The telephone poll — which used both land lines and cell phones — of 861 likely voters across Ohio from Sept. 13 through Tuesday has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points. Other sources of error are possible, such as nonresponse bias. A total of 17 percent responded when pollsters called.
The party breakdown of the randomly selected respondents: 48 percent Democrats, 42 percent Republicans, 10 percent independents.
The data were weighted to correct for potential sampling bias on gender and region of residence for respondents.
The poll was financed solely by the Ohio Newspaper Organization.
Blade Politics Writer Tom Troy contributed to this report.
Contact Darrel Rowland at: email@example.com