Obama and Romney Supporters Deeply Divided Despite Close Virginia Race

October 24, 2012

With less than two weeks remaining before Election Day, President Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. 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 Republican George Allen and Democrat Tim Kaine is too close to call.

In a survey conducted Oct. 8-19, 46 percent of respondents said they are certain to vote for Romney, compared to 45 percent for Obama, with 2 percent remaining undecided and 2 percent favoring other candidates.

However, there could be some room for movement.

“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 students in the “Sociology Research Methods” course taught by sociologist Deborah Rexrode, a senior project manager at U.Va.’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. George Mason sociology students conducted the balance of the interviews, using the facilities of GMU’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,” GMU sociology professor Greg Guagnano said. Among them:

  • 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).
  • 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,” Jim Witte, director of GMU’s Center for Social Science Research, said. “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 the survey’s foreign policy findings:

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. Allen and Kaine are in a virtual tie, with Allen leading Kaine by 3 percentage points (43 percent to 40, respectively),with 4 percent favoring other candidates and 13 percent remaining undecided.

“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 plus or minus 4 percentage points. The survey costs were underwritten by the Mason Center for Social Science Research and the U.Va. Center for Survey Research.