PRINCETON, NJ — President Obama’s job performance and the economy are uppermost in Americans’ minds when they are asked to say why they are voting for their preferred candidate in the coming presidential election. About a third of Obama voters say he is doing a good job and deserves another term, while nearly as many Romney voters say Obama is doing poorly and should be voted out of office. Romney voters are more than twice as likely as Obama voters to mention the economy.
The results are based on a June 7-10 Gallup poll. In addition to Obama’s performance and the economy, Americans also commonly mention party loyalty, issue or policy agreement, and dislike for the other candidates in the race. Seven percent mention healthcare reform, including 10% of Obama supporters and 4% of Romney supporters, suggesting the issue may be more of a positive than a negative for Obama.
When the individual responses are combined into broader categories, performance-related reasons outnumber economic issues, including the economy, taxes, and the deficit, by 34% to 28%. Party or ideological similarity is next-most common, mentioned by one in five voters. Twelve percent cite some aspect of the candidate’s character or background, while fewer mention domestic or international issues.
Combining economic issues, other domestic issues, and international issues, roughly four in 10 Americans have a particular issue focus as their reason for voting. That does not include the roughly 10% who cite ideological agreement in general.
Romney voters are nearly twice as likely to mention economic issues, perhaps because the economy may be perceived as a weaker area for Obama, given Americans’ overall negative assessment of it. Obama voters are more likely to say other domestic issues, such as education or healthcare, or international issues, are reasons they are supporting the president’s re-election.
Obama voters and Romney voters are about equally likely to mention job performance, party or ideology, and character or personal qualities as reasons for their vote.
Job Performance, Economy More Salient to Voters This Year
Gallup has asked similar open-ended questions in the 2000, 2004, and 2008 elections. An analysis of the responses using the same broad categories to group responses for previous years finds voters more often mentioning incumbent job performance and economic issues this year than in recent elections.
Specifically, the 34% who mention job performance is higher than in the last incumbent election, 2004. It is also higher than in 2008, when an incumbent was not running but voters, particularly Obama supporters, commonly said they wanted a new approach to governing from that of George W. Bush.
Americans are twice as likely to mention the economy now as in 2008, even though the 2008 reading was taken just a few weeks after the height of the financial crisis.
Character and personal qualities seem to matter less to voters this year than in recent elections; the 12% mentioning these is roughly half the percentage that did so in 2000 and 2008. In 2004, 40% mentioned character, making it the most common category of responses that year.
Partisan and ideological similarity was the most common reason voters gave in the 2000 and 2008 elections — years in which an incumbent was not running.
International issues figured much more prominently in voters’ minds in 2004 and 2008, due to U.S. involvement in the Iraq war.
In a year in which an incumbent is seeking election to a second term during a down economy, it is not surprising that President Obama’s job performance and economic issues are the top reasons voters give for supporting their preferred candidate. These factors seem to matter more to Americans now than in previous years.
Together, the findings suggest President Obama’s overall job approval rating, his approval rating for handling the economy, how responsible people feel Obama is for the state of the economy, and Americans’ overall level of economic confidence are all key indicators to monitor during the remainder of the presidential campaign.
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Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted June 7-10, 2012, with a random sample of 933 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, who have a presidential candidate preference.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
For results based on the total sample of 448 Obama voters, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±6 percentage points.
For results based on the total sample of 439 Romney voters, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±6 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more details on Gallup’s polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.