Obama and Romney Supporters Deeply Divided Despite Close Virginia Race

Obama and Romney Supporters Deeply Divided Despite Close Virginia Race

President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney are in a virtual tie among likely voters in the key swing state of Virginia, according to a new survey conducted by the University of Virginia and George Mason University.  Similarly, the Virginia Senate race between George Allen and Tim Kaine is too close to call.

Forty-five percent of respondents say they are certain to vote for Romney compared to 44 percent for Obama, with 6 percent remaining undecided and 5 percent favoring other candidates in the survey conducted from Oct. 8-19. 

However, there is some room for movement in the final two weeks before the election due to soft support for each candidate. “Slightly less than three-quarters of the voters backing each candidate say their support is very strong, with a large majority of undecided voters unwilling to report leaning toward a particular candidate,” said Thomas M. Guterbock, director of U.Va.’s Center for Survey Research, which provided facilities for half of the telephone interviewing, conducted by a team of UVa students in Dr. Deborah Rexrode’s Sociology Research Methods class.  Sociology students at Mason conducted the balance of the interviews, using the facilities of Mason’s Center for Social Science Research. 

“Despite the soft support for the candidates in the survey, there are a number of issues that differentiate voter endorsement of a candidate,” said Mason Sociology Professor Greg Guagnano.

  • On the topic of immigration, more Romney than Obama supporters believe immigrants increase crime rates (49 percent to 22 percent, respectively) and the solution to the immigration issue is to build a fence or wall along the U.S.-Mexico border (82 percent to 43 percent, respectively).
  • Interestingly, Romney and Obama supporters are somewhat similar in their belief that immigrants make America more open to new ideas and cultures (77 percent to 87 percent, respectively), but Romney supporters are less likely than those supporting Obama to report that immigrants are generally good for the economy (57 percent to 79 percent, respectively).

Other topics that drew the clearest contrast between Romney and Obama supporters include:

  • the belief that the government has done a good job responding to the needs of the unemployed (17 percent to 77 percent, respectively),
  • the belief that the rich do not pay their fair share of taxes (28 percent to 87 percent, respectively),
  • the need to reduce current levels of defense spending (22 percent to 74 percent, respectively)
  • the belief that voter ID laws create more confidence in the voting process (89 percent to 55 percent, respectively)
  • the need for government stimulus to create more jobs (54 percent to 92 percent, respectively).

“Obama and Romney supporters differ strongly in their foreign policy views,” said Jim Witte, Director of Mason’s Center for Social Science Research:  “These differences are especially interesting given the third and final Presidential debate, when the two candidates expressed very similar positions, particularly with regard to Syria, Iran and Afghanistan.” 

  • Among Romney supporters 68 percent agreed with the statement “America should use its military power to defend democracy throughout the world,” as compared to 36 percent of Obama supporters.
  • By contrast, 22 percent of Romney supporters agreed with the statement “The U.S. needs to reduce current levels of defense spending,” as compared to 74 percent of those with a preference for Obama.

Overall, the striking differences in supporters’ views on important foreign and domestic policy issues ensures that whoever wins the election will be called to lead a nation where nearly half the voters hold opinions that are clearly different than the opinions of their own supporters.

The senate race in Virginia mirrors the presidential contest, among those voters who are certain to cast a ballot in the upcoming election.  George Allen and Tim Kaine are in a virtual tie, with Allen leading Kaine by 2 percentage points (40 percent to 38, respectively), with nearly 20 percent of voters refusing to commit to either candidate. “As is the case with the Presidential preferences, the difference between the Senate candidates is less than the poll’s margin of error,” Rexrode pointed out.

The survey interviewed 641 registered voters in Virginia, reached on both landline and cellular telephones.  It has a margin of error of +/- 4 percentage points.  The survey costs were underwritten by the Mason Center for Social Science Research and the UVa Center for Survey Research.