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Suburban Split: President Obama and Mitt Romney in Dead Heat

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National Suburban Poll shows Obama gaining ground with suburban swing voters

Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY – More independent voters in the suburbs are satisfied with President Barack Obama’s job performance than in 2011, putting Obama into a dead heat with presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney among all suburban voters, a new National Suburban Poll [PDF] shows.

While Romney still holds a lead over Obama among suburban independent voters, 45 percent to 41 percent, his support from these critical swing voters is eroding, according to the sixth poll for the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University.

The number of independent suburban voters who give Obama a positive job rating stands at 40 percent, compared to 33 percent in 2011. And 41 percent of independents in the suburbs would vote for the president over Romney, up from 29 percent in 2011, the poll found. This shift means Obama and Romney are tied at 46 percent among all registered suburban voters. In 2011, suburban voters favored Romney over Obama, 48 percent to 40 percent.

“Suburban voters have been deciding national elections for about a generation so it’s positive news for President Obama that his prospects have improved in the ‘Crab Grass Frontier’,” said Lawrence Levy, Executive Dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies.  “But his standing with suburbanites  — which tracks with their feelings about the economy — is volatile and could shift dramatically by November if they lose faith in their financial futures.”

And so far, their economic outlook is more optimistic than in 2011, particularly among Democrats and independents, according to the poll. Asked if they are better off than four years ago, fewer independents (31%) say they are worse off, 12 percentage points lower than the 43 percent found in 2011. Now 22 percent of Democrats say they are worse off, a 10-point drop from the previous survey.

“The increase in optimism about the nation’s economy has given Obama a lift in the suburbs since last year, as he is winning a bigger share of those with a positive view of the future,” said Evans Witt, CEO and Principal of Princeton Survey Research Associates International (PSRAI), which designed and executed the survey for Hofstra. “This poses a challenge for Romney if the economic picture improves through Election Day.”

Yet the poll revealed mixed signals about the impact the economic downturn has had on suburban residents.  A slightly higher percentage – 43 percent – rates their own finances as excellent or good, up from 39 percent in 2011. Meanwhile, more than two in five suburban residents say they or someone they know has lost their home, up five points since 2011.

Of those suburbanites who say they or someone they know lost their home, 13 percent say they lost their home and nearly half – 46 percent – say it was a neighbor.

“While suburbanites are becoming more positive about their economic position, the long-term economic effects of the housing crisis — high unemployment and stagnant property values — continue to lead suburbanites to foreclosure,” said Christopher Niedt, PhD, academic director of the NCSS.

The sixth national Suburban Poll oversampled adults living in suburban areas of the country. The previous polls were conducted in September 2008, October 2008, October 2009, September 2011 and November 2011. The survey is based on phone interviews in English and Spanish with 1,532 adults from June 11-28, 2012, the margin for error for the total sample is plus or minus three percentage points. For results reflecting suburbanites, the margin is plus or minus four percent. For urban residents, it is plus or minus six percent.

Among the other findings:

  • More suburbanites report living paycheck-to-paycheck most or all the time – 44 percent – since the National Suburban Poll began in September 2008.
  • Only a quarter of suburbanites are satisfied with the direction of the country, but that’s up from 15 percent in 2011. It is the highest level of satisfaction reported by suburban residents since 2009.
  • The economy remains a key concern, but the focus has shifted in both the suburbs and cities. In 2008, both groups ranked general economic concerns as the issue they wanted to hear the presidential candidates talk about (46 percent), with jobs and unemployment coming in a distant second (only two percent of suburbanites and four percent of city dwellers ranked it as their primary issue). This year, 22 percent of both groups ranked jobs as their number one concern.
  • Suburban voters continue to have contradictory views about taxes and government spending. Fifty-six percent favor reducing income taxes for all Americans, but 60 percent also want to raise income taxes on the wealthy.
  • Suburban residents have reversed their position on gay marriage. In 2008, 31 percent supported full recognition, 21 supported civil unions and 40 percent opposed any type of legal recognition. This year, 42 percent favor full marriage rights, 16 percent support civil unions and 34 percent oppose any recognition.

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, engineering, education, health sciences and human services, and honor studies, as well as the Maurice A. Deane School of Law and the Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine.

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