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National Suburban Poll Finds Support for Obama Erodes in the Suburbs, Particularly Among Minorities

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Suburban independents give GOP candidates an edge in midterms

Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY – Nearly half of suburban Americans disapprove of the job President Obama is doing, and a majority of likely independent swing voters in the suburbs now favor Republicans in the upcoming midterm elections, according to a new National Suburban Poll.

The poll for the National Center for Suburban Studies® at Hofstra University (NCSS) found that 48 percent of suburbanites gave Obama a negative job approval rating, up eight percent over 2009. Only 43 percent now approve of his work. Even more surprising is the finding that minority suburbanites’ dissatisfaction with the president has nearly tripled over the past year: 26 percent disapprove of his job performance this year, compared to just 9 percent in 2009.

With less than a month before midterm elections that could strip Democrats of control of Congress, the results of the fourth National Suburban Poll highlight the unpredictability of the current political climate. For example, while Obama is losing favor in the suburbs, voters there are split on whether their attitude toward the president is driving their ballot choices, with 45 percent saying Obama is not much of a factor in their vote.

“For decades, as the suburbs gained in demographic and political power, the party that has won in suburbia has controlled congress and the White House,” said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the NCSS. “Suburbanites again will be the swing vote, and the loss of support among black voters in the suburbs could be devastating for Democrats in the many congressional districts in which high minority turnout for Obama was critical to electing them. If black and other minority voters merely stay home it will cost Democrats dearly in congressional and statewide races.”

The poll also indicates that the economy is motivating suburban Republicans more than Democrats, even though Democrats and independents are enduring more financial hardship.

Suburban Republicans are more likely to report higher incomes than suburban Democrats or independents, but 43 percent of them say they are worse off than they were a year ago, compared to 33 percent of independents.

“Our poll clearly shows that the economy is a key issue in the midterm elections, particularly for suburban voters, but not necessarily in the way you would expect,” said NCSS Academic Director Christopher Niedt, Ph.D. “The economic crisis has hit the suburbs, and suburban Republicans are mobilized, but the hardest hit suburbanites are Democratic supporters and they aren’t mobilized. Republicans appear to be using economic stress to rally the base, even though GOP-leaners are not as distressed as Democrats.”

What’s more, Republicans have an edge in the vote for the U.S. House not only among suburban registered voters who say their family finances have taken a hit since 2008 (50 percent to 37 percent) but also among those who rate their family finances as good (53 percent to 37 percent). Republican House candidates also do better among likely suburban independent voters, 43 percent to 33 percent, the poll found.

“In the few weeks left before Election Day, Republicans need to work hard to keep their advantage among middle- and upper-income white suburbanites,” said Evans Witt, CEO and principal of Princeton Survey Research Associates International (PSRAI), which conducted the survey. “Democrats need to solidify their support among white working class suburbanites while pursuing every effort to boost their backing from suburban minorities to traditionally high levels.”

In fact, the findings indicate that overall, the economic picture in the suburbs has remained stable over the past year. But a closer look at the numbers reveals a disturbing trend: among those who rate their finances as negative: the news has gotten mostly worse since last year, not better.

For example, among those with weak family finances, the number who characterized their situation as “only fair” was 33 percent in 2010, down from 39 percent in 2009. However, the number of suburbanites with a “poor” financial situation went up to 20 percent, from 15 percent in 2009. The number who rated their family finances as positive stayed the same at 37 percent.

The fourth National Suburban Poll oversampled adults living in suburban areas of the country, and was designed and executed for the NCSS by Princeton Survey Research Associates International. The previous surveys were conducted in September 2008, October 2008 and October 2009. The poll is based on phone interviews in English and Spanish with 1,549 adults from Sept. 15 to Sept. 28 2010. The margin of error for the total sample is plus or minus three percentage points. For results reflecting suburbanites, the margin is plus or minus four percentage points, and for urban and rural residents it is plus or minus five percentage points

Among the other findings:

  • The controversy that erupted earlier this year over plans to build an Islamic cultural center near the site of the former World Trade Center is not a factor in most suburban voters’ election choices. While two-thirds (65 percent) think building the center near Ground Zero is inappropriate, the majority of both Democrats and independents say a candidate’s position on the issue would not make a difference.
  • The number of suburbanites who believe the federal government’s response to the economic crisis has improved their family’s finances went down to just 10 percent in 2010, compared to 19 percent in 2009. Among urban and rural residents the drop was even more striking: ten percent said the federal government improved their finances this year, down from 24 percent in 2009. 
  • A key indicator of economic stress – how many people report living paycheck to paycheck – remained unchanged or rose slightly between 2009 and 2010. The number of suburbanites who said they lived paycheck to paycheck always or most of the time rose to 42 percent in 2010, compared to 39 percent in 2008. In urban and rural areas, the number stayed about the same at about 45 percent.

The National Center for Suburban Studies® at Hofstra University is a non-partisan research institution dedicated to promoting objective, academically rigorous study of suburbia’s problems and promise. Rooted in the laboratory of Long Island’s diverse and aging suburbs, the National Center studies a broad range of local and national issues. The suburbs have emerged as the nexus of dynamic demographic, social, economic and environmental change. The tasks of identifying, analyzing and solving the problems of suburbia are key to the health of the country – and central to the Center’s mission.

Hofstra University is a dynamic private institution where students can choose from more than 150 undergraduate and 160 graduate programs in liberal arts and sciences, business, communication, education and allied health services and honor studies, as well as a School of Law and the Hofstra-North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine.

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