Analysis: Romney can find comfort, and Obama concern, in Resurgent Republic’s data

Presidential elections are not horse races, although many of us in journalism tend to treat them that way. Flesh and blood voters make decisions for complex and personal reasons, which explains why Red States can go strongly Republican in presidential elections while electing Democratic Senators or Representatives or governors. The converse is true for Democrats, of course, especially in Obama-leaning states that have lately been electing Republican governors. 

A group called “Resurgent Republic” has sponsored focus groups and opinion analyses this year, and is reaching some conclusions that could mean incumbent President Barack Obama will have a hard time gaining a second term. That doesn’t mean his mission is impossible, but the president’s support has weakened among a wide range of key support constituencies.

In a release detailing its “summary memo,” the “resurgent” group said, “Blue Collar Catholics overwhelmingly point to personal fiscal and pocketbook concerns in explaining their negative outlook on the direction of the country and health of the economy, according to the final memo in a series of focus group studies unveiled [April 26] as part of Resurgent Republic’s Target Voter Series. While they moderately support President Obama, these working class voters are not strongly tied to him and don’t believe his policies have made things better.”

The group, which is guided by former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, a Republican, sponsored a four focus group among working class Catholics in Cleveland, Ohio and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The people who participated “all voted for President Obama in 2008, but are undecided on the generic presidential ballot today.”

The work done by McLaughlin & Associates studied Catholic blue collar voters who were “split between those whose religious beliefs are culturally based (participants in Cleveland) and regular churchgoers (participants in Pittsburgh). Not surprisingly these voters tend to lean left. Some had union ties and others support public sector involvement in social justice programs, especially the voters in Pittsburgh. The participants also strongly identify as working class. They did not have a college degree, and the annual household income for the majority of participants was less than $60,000.”

According to John McLaughlin, who led the research, while those whose views were examined in depth “lean left, but they are not strongly tied to the President and are likely up for grabs this November. “Whoever appeals to this target demographic will do so by connecting with their personal sense of suffering and the issues they care about, primarily their desire for quality, family-supporting jobs.”

The results are of some interest because President Obama’s press to compel religious institutions, including Church-related hospitals and other care-giving groups, to provide access to abortifacients through insurance programs. That might be expected to be a primary focus for Catholic “blue collars,” but McLaughlin’s analysis indicates that at least in Ohio and Pennsylvania, Catholic working people are, primarily, fretting over the same economic concerns as everyone else. 

Resurgent Republic’s analysis continued, “These voters feel personally and severely affected by the economic downturn and their primary concern is their own economic well-being. They hold a pessimistic outlook on their personal financial situation and they view the national economy as dismal. Everything from the price of gas, unemployment, job insecurity, cost of health care, cost of college and personal debt contribute to their pessimism on the economy and political environment.”

Barbour commented, “There was hardly any mention of positive economic indicators, like the rising stock market or any improvement in the unemployment rate. Nearly all of these voters feel financially insecure, and even three participants said they are going to lose their job in the coming weeks.” Like many other Americans, these voters believe the true unemployment rate is much higher than what is officially reported. 

Those surveyed say they have made significant reductions in personal spending during the last few years, are self-described as “hardworking” and believe both that those with lower incomes are taking advantage of welfare, and, further, they “see the rich as not contributing their fair share of taxes.”

Additionally, according to the analysis, “Among Blue Collar Catholics, President Obama increasingly owns the deficit and debt.”

The Target Voter series reached a total of 24 focus groups consisting of “Obama Independents who are undecided on the generic presidential ballot. Nine other states (beyond Ohio and Pennsylvania) were studied among six demographic groups, described as Suburban Women, Young Voters, Seniors, Independents, Hispanics, and Blue Collar Catholics.

The analysis from the last several month’s of work is available online at

Resurgent Republic hosted a breakfast meeting with reporters and others at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. last week. 

A sketch of some results follows, focused on these groups and locations: Suburban Women (Wal-Mart Women and working college graduates) in Des Moines, Iowa and Manchester, New Hampshire; Young Voters (ages 23 to 30) in Raleigh, North Carolina and Columbus, Ohio; Seniors (ages 65 and older) in Tampa, Florida and Grand Rapids, Michigan; Independents in Denver, Colorado and Richmond, Virginia; Hispanics (Spanish-preferred and English-bilingual) in Albuquerque, New Mexico and Las Vegas, Nevada; and the work sketched above among Blue Collar Catholics in Cleveland, Ohio and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Presenters at the D.C. Meeting included Governor Barbour, McLaughlin, Whit Ayres (Resurgent Republic Board Member, and President, North Star Opinion Research); Ed Goeas (National Survey Research Advisory Board, and President/CEO, The Tarrance Group); and Jan van Lohuizen, National Survey Research Advisory Board and President of Voter/Consumer Research).

McLaughlin was a key player in the work, but several other opinion researchers have participated in the focus group research. In each set of analysis, the focus was on voters who backed President Obama in 2008, but at the time of the focus group sessions were undecided. 

Among other conclusions Resurgent Republic has now disclosed were those from four focus groups in Denver and Richmond, where Public Opinion Strategies conducted the sessions (which were divided by gender). For those voters, the analysts say, “President Obama’s likeability is not enough to win back and hold this voting block.” This research was first shared with CapitolBeatOK in early April. 

“These Obama Independents still like the President, even if they moderately disapprove of the job he is doing. Yet the President’s personal likeability does not prevent many of these Independents from concluding that he has not delivered according to their expectations and things are not getting better,” read a memo from Glen Bolger, a member of the “Resurgent” board, and Gov. Barbour. They said, “President Obama remains in a precarious position with these voters when their attention is focused on his record.”

Obama’s support among independents, whom he won 52 percent to 44 percent in 2008, began to fray in spring 2009, according to the analysis. Many of them broke against the president’s party in the 2010 congressional elections. Resurgent Republic’s narrative concludes, “These Independents remain mostly negative about the economy, describing it as ‘poor,’ ‘ailing,’ ‘sad,’ and ‘erratic.’ There’s also a growing anger and frustration with the perceived abuse of unemployment benefits, in particular gaming the government benefit system while they feel like they are personally working harder than before. On energy President Obama’s decision to delay the Keystone XL pipeline is perceived as beholden to environmental groups, according to these voters. And discussion of Solyndra, while not as widely known among these groups, remakes President Obama as ‘just another politician’ when they realize how the loan was approved, the political connections involved, and the loss of more than half billion taxpayer dollars.”

By this point in the political calendar, numerous studies of popular feelings have begun to conclude President Obama has weakened considerably among the young voters who backed him in 2008. [The president garnered 66 percent backing among 18-to-29 year olds in 2008.] Analysis from Resurgent Republic first unveiled in late March ratifies findings about the president’s challenges this year. In fact, the group says, “young voters today tend to be the most negative about the direction of the country.” At least, that was case the four focus groups among “Generation-Y” voters in Raleigh and Columbus. 

Participating voters were between ages 23 and 30, self-identified as independents who voted for Obama in 2008, but presently undecided. In this case, the work was performed by the Tarrance Group. Ed Goes and Ed Gillespie wrote in their summary, “If these groups are representative of this demographic at large, it will be a tall task to counter the disillusionment many feel due to a pattern of over-promising and under-delivering Young voters’ ongoing frustration does not mean they will outright abandon Obama … but it should call into question their reliability to turnout for him this November barring any changes.”

In recent opinion polls, more than two-thirds the 18-29 year old cadre surveyed believe the country is on the “wrong track.” 

In a more dated set of survey data, released in late January, President Obama was “underperforming” among Hispanic voters in Florida. Resurgent Republic released that data in coordination with the Hispanic Leadership Network’s Inspiring Action Conference. In his analysis then, Gillespie said Obama would be “on the defensive” in the Sunshine State, including among many Hispanic voters.

While Republicans face serious difficulties among many parts of the national Hispanic population, there is appeal to these voters in Republican advocacy of education reform (including school choice, teacher accountability) and other issues. Hispanic voters in Florida, the focus group work found, give plurality support to merit pay programs. 

An outright majority of those voters, the analysis concludes, believe federal spending is too high, and echo the “wrong track” numbers by 60-27 percent. The state’s Hispanic voters also backed voter ID requirements. This survey of 500 Hispanic voters was conducted in mid-January.

Earlier this year, President Obama came to Oklahoma, a state he is all-but-certain to lose in November, to tout an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy. It might have softened some antagonism toward the chief executive in the Sooner State, but likely had its greatest impact outside our borders.

Mitt Romney, now on his way to the Republican nomination, will visit Oklahoma City next week seeking campaign contributions, including from leaders of the energy industry the president began to target anew just days after his trip to Oklahoma. Romney is likely to perform well in the Sooner State when November rolls around. Every demographic group studied in the Resurgent Republic analysis has its equivalent in Oklahoma – providing even more reasons for optimism about the Grand Old Party’s prospects here in the general election. 

To put it mildly, in the big picture, Romney can find some comfort from the analysis coming from Resurgent Republic.