Romney, meanwhile, portrays the president as out of his depth on economic issues. And in the Republican’s current advertising campaign, he highlights steps he would take as president to roll back policies that the Obama administration has put into place.
In the poll, Americans overall reported widespread economic pain, with more than seven in 10 saying they have been affected directly or indirectly by unemployment in the past few years. Four in 10 report struggling to maintain their socioeconomic status, with about one in five saying they are in the middle class and straining to stay there.
Voters split evenly on whether President Obama or Mitt Romney would do more to help their families financially, but big majorities see the Republican as doing more to help wealthy Americans and Wall Street, not necessarily a win for the former governor.
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“We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us,” the president said.
Fifty percent of all voters say Obama would do more to advance the interests of the middle class more generally, and 44 percent say so of Romney.
On that question, Obama has an advantage of 53 percent to 41 percent among those who think their foothold in the middle class is relatively secure, while the two candidates divide about equally among those struggling to stay there.
That overall parity, as has been the case in the past, disguises a vast racial divide.
Among white voters trying to stay in the middle class, Romney is considered the better candidate for that group by a 20-point margin; Obama is preferred by better than 3 to 1 among middle-class nonwhite voters, regardless of their sense of security.
Whites and nonwhites — as well as voters across party lines — agree that Romney would do more than Obama to advocate for the economic interests of wealthy Americans.
By a 23-point margin, voters say it’s Romney, not Obama, who would do more to advance the interests of Wall Street.
As for the new federal regulations for banks and other financial institutions put in place during the current administration, few voters — about one in four — say they have struck the right balance. About 25 percent of all voters say the regulations “go too far,” while 39 percent say “not far enough.” Most Democrats say the new rules are not sufficiently tough; among Republicans, twice as many say they are unnecessarily restrictive compared with those saying they are too lenient. Independents tilt in the “not far enough” direction.
The telephone poll was conducted May 17 to 20 among a random national sample of 1,004 adults. The margin of sampling error for the full poll is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. The margin is four points for the sample of 874 registered voters.
Polling analyst Scott Clement and polling manager Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report.