The Budget Battle in the Republican-Obama Battleground

The Republicans’ proposed budget cuts are in trouble in the 50 most competitive Republican-held Congressional districts – nearly all of which gave a majority to Obama in the last presidential election. Support drops dramatically after respondents hear balanced information and messages, and incumbents in these battleground seats find themselves even more endangered.

These battleground voters are currently split on the Republican plan to cut domestic programs by $61 billion, with 46 percent in favor and 46 percent opposed. This would be a dramatic decline in support from January when Democracy Corps found 60 percent support for the Republicans’ budget cuts.

And after a balanced debate on the issue, support for the Republican budget plan drops sharply, to 41 percent, with a 52 percent majority opposed. The more voters hear from the Republicans on this issue, the less they like.  In fact, after hearing the budget debate, 53 percent agree, the more they hear from Republicans like their incumbent, “the less I like.” Just 39 percent say the more they hear, “the more I like.”  And this is reflected in the vote, as it moves a net of 5 points towards the Democrats, giving them a 47 to 44 percent lead on the ballot.

Much of the shift up to this point has come among Democrats and Democratic base groups, with independents still holding back from Democrats on budget issues. But it is independents that move in response to the messages and attacks tested in this survey.

Democrats and progressives have a strong case to make against the Republicans by focusing on their budget priorities: specifically, the Republicans’ plan to protect wasteful special-interest subsidies for oil companies and tax breaks for millionaires, while cutting support for veterans, education and Medicare and Social Security.  Other critiques are weaker, but progressives clearly can win this debate – even in the battleground of Republican seats.

Key Message Recommendations

  • Throughout this poll, the strongest framework and attacks center on the priorities and choices Republicans are making, not the severity of the cuts.  Democrats strongly defeat the Republican arguments in the former framework, but not within the latter.
  • The Democrats’ strongest thematic attack again is grounded in an attack on priorities – raising serious doubts for over 60 percent of respondents and driving voters away from the Republican budget in our regression modeling.
  • Republican cuts to funding for homeless veterans, their support for oil subsidies, their support for privatizing Medicare and Social Security, and their cuts to Head Start and anti-poverty programs are their biggest specific vulnerabilities.
  • The most popular Democratic proposals for addressing the deficit are “eliminating subsidies for oil and gas companies” and “instituting a surtax on families making over one million dollars a year” – which is totally consistent with the priorities framework.

[1] Based on a survey of 1,000 likely voters in 50 battleground congressional districts conducted March 13-17, 2011. This battleground was split into two tiers of 25 districts each. These districts include 44 that were won by President Obama in 2008 and were chosen based on the 2008 presidential margin, the 2010 congressional margin and race ratings from Charlie Cook and others. The margin of error for the entire sample is +/- 3.1%. In each tier it is +/- 4.5%. Please see our memo and attached graphs, which explore the  political situation in these districts.

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