Resurgent Republic, a right-leaning research and polling firm, reports on two focus groups in Milwaukee, gathered from independent voters who went with President Obama in 2008. Today it is a different story:

There was a high level of awareness of the first presidential debate, and all participants were surprised and disappointed by President Obama’s performance. . . .

Mitt Romney came across as presidential to these voters during the debate, and as a result, they are more likely to view him as qualified to be president. . . . Even more important politically, the Mitt Romney they watched on the debate stage was a positive divergence from the caricature drawn by a barrage of negative advertising these voters have seen. . . .

A majority of participants in both groups remain very pessimistic about the economy. . . .

Participants don’t blame President Obama for the slow economic recovery, yet the unemployment rate dropping below 8 percent is not an October surprise. . . . For these voters, unemployment was a major problem for the country at 8.1 percent, and it remains one at 7.8 percent.

The participants also reported they are most concerned with shrinking middle-class income. The focus group directors report: “Mitt Romney is well-positioned to solidify his leading position with swing voters if he communicates how his plan will do a better job alleviating these concerns compared to the policies put in place during the past four years.”

Finally, “the consensus in these groups was both candidates need to be specific about what they will do moving forward.”

Resurgent also held two focus groups in Tampa of seniors who supported Obama in 2008 but are undecided now. These seniors believed Obama “was better able to handle Medicare, but . . . this sentiment is not as strong when compared to previous elections in large part due to Obamacare.” Like the Wisconsin focus groups, “The participants expressed surprise at how poorly the president came across” in the first debate. Romney did much better: “The participants commented that Romney was prepared and struck an appropriate balance of being aggressive, but not overtly rude. The candidate they saw on the debate stage was a positive contrast to the person they expected to see based upon negative advertising.”

Again, the drop in the unemployment rate didn’t greatly impact these voters:

Moreover, unemployment dropping below 8 percent did not produce a game-changing shift in how seniors perceive President Obama’s stewardship of the economy. Like we’ve heard in prior groups, participants question whether the unemployment rate is an accurate reflection of the health of the economy, citing underemployment and those who have ended their job search. Their frustration about the state of the economy remains deep and is the reason they desire to hear specific plans from both presidential candidates as to how the economy will move forward over the next four years.

These focus groups, like the public polling we’ve seen of late, suggest that Romney made great strides in the first debate. The gap between national polling and swing-state polling has now vanished (bad news for Obama), so he is well-positioned to cement the initial impression and keep the swing-state electorate moving in his direction.