Focus on Economy or Broaden the Message? GOP Poll Has Clues

TAMPA, Fla. — After a few days here talking to GOP insiders, it’s clear that there are quite a few of what I would call nervously optimistic Republicans. A mix of party professionals and movement-oriented conservatives, these Republicans believe wholeheartedly that Mitt Romney can beat President Barack Obama on Nov. 6, but are worried he won’t do what’s necessary to win. And they tend to have divergent opinions about what “necessary” is. The two most common arguments?  That Romney should go big and broaden his argument beyond simply a focus on the economy and jobs and that he should focus only on the economy and jobs. A new poll conducted by GOP pollster David Winston for the Republican super PAC American Action Network indicates that both arguments have merit, but that a winning campaign for Romney will include both lines of attack. The survey’s findings suggest that relentlessly focusing on the economy and jobs gives the Republican presidential ticket its best opportunity to capture independent voters and deflect the central attack being leveled by Obama. However, selecting House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan as his running mate and going on the attack on Medicare has also proved valuable for the GOP, according to a comparison of political messages tested by Winston in this poll. In the poll, which Winston tells me had a plus-two, self-identified Democratic sample and a plus-three self-identified moderates over conservatives sample, 1,000 registered voters — particularly independent voters — responded more favorably to a jobs-oriented test message than to a message that focuses on saving Medicare in its current form. The survey, conducted Aug. 17-19 and with a 3.1-point error margin, also found that the 2010 health care law remains unpopular and that Romney’s Medicare attacks on Obama have “neutralized” Democratic attempts to damage Republicans by tying them to the Ryan budget passed by the Republican-controlled House. Among the poll's findings: In a message test, the “candidate who has a clear plan for economic growth and job creation” beat the candidate “who says he or she will work to save the Medicare system,” 66 percent to 26 percent. Among independent voters, the economic-oriented message won, 77 percent to 17 percent. Seniors also favored that message, 48 percent to 36 percent. Voters disapprove of the 2010 overhaul, which Republicans refer to as “Obamacare,” 53 percent to 43 percent. Independents oppose the law by a larger margin of 56 percent to 37 percent. Those two pieces of polling data suggest that Republicans have something to gain both from pushing a jobs-centric message and from reminding voters that they don’t like Obama’s signature legislation achievement. And yet, additional findings from the survey indicate that if Republicans get bogged down in other issues and ignore the economy as a central theme, they do so at some peril. When voters were asked “which was more important, reducing government spending or creating jobs, they chose creating jobs by a 70 percent to 27 percent margin,” according to the polling memo. “Additionally, when voters were asked which was the more important question this fall, ‘Where are the jobs?’ or ‘What should be the size and role of government?’ people chose jobs by a 61-35 margin.” One interesting finding of note on Medicare: When Obama’s message was tested against Romney’s message, the president’s message won by a statistically insignificant margin of 48 percent to 47 percent. The language used for Obama’s message: “Democrat candidate who says that the Romney-Ryan plan will end Medicare as we know it and turn it into a voucher system.” The language used for Romney’s message: “The Republican candidate who says that President Obama cut $700 billion from Medicare for current seniors to fund his health care plan.”