The Washington Post

Politics of the economy

Issue No. 1, the economy, is sure to play a big role in the first debate Wednesday night. The latest poll from the Washington Post and ABC News finds large numbers of voters continuing to hold negative views of the state of the economy, its direction and where things stand for their personal finances, and ambivalence about the 2009 stimulus program.

The challenges for President Obama on the economy and the opportunities for Mitt Romney are obvious. But a closer look at the politics of the economy show that Romney's electoral advantages are built largely on strong support among those with highly negative views. But those intense views are in the minority. Larger numbers of voters have more moderate views of the state of the economy and they prefer Obama.

For example, nearly four in 10 voters say the economy is in poor shape and they support Romney over Obama by a whopping 50-point margin. But among the six in 10 voters who say the economy is better than poor, Obama tops Romney by 40 points. 

For Romney to succeed, he will need to continue to hammer home his argument that Obama has failed on the economy and things will get worse with a second term. Obama's task may be less daunting. Perhaps convincing voters that the economic situation is not dire — rather than good — may be just enough for the president to keep his job. 

Peyton M. Craighill is polling manager for the Washington Post. Peyton reports and conducts national and regional news polls for the Washington Post, with a focus on politics, elections and other social and economic issues.

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