Swing voters give Obama flexibility to solve US economic crisis

Even President-elect Barack Obama’s least enthusiastic supporters seem willing to cut him slack in solving the nation’s problems.That is one conclusion of a focus group conducted Nov. 22 by pollster Peter Hart among Virginia voters who might not have been expected to vote for Obama. Eight of the 12 voted for George Bush in 2004, nine considered backing John McCain. The focus group session, conducted for the Annenberg Public Policy Center, will air Nov. 28 at 8 p.m. on C-SPAN.

The goal, Mr. Hart says, was not to pick a group of six men and six women that represented a cross section of America but “to understand the victorious coalition Barack Obama assembled.” The focus group results also give some insight into Obama’s wins in other red states such as Indiana, Colorado, Nevada, and North Carolina. Keeping the support of those swing voters will be crucial if Obama wants to govern effectively.

Voters seek focus on pocketbook issues

The group was willing to “cut the new president-elect a great deal of slack because of the economic conditions that few see being solved in the next two years,” Hart says.

Of Obama’s major campaign promises, the group was most interested in his pledges to invest in alternative energy, cut taxes for working families earning less than $200,000, and develop a health care program to cut premiums and allow any American to chose to buy into a federal health plan.

The list of promises that they were willing to drop included closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay and creating a $4,000 college tax credit for students willing to perform community service.

For the moment, Obama appears to have a unique relationship with the American people, Hart says. “Like so many American presidents over the past half century, he begins with the good wishes of the American public, but unlike most of the others, he has garnered a kind of respect and admiration that Americans have not accorded most presidents.”

According to polling by the Gallup organization, 67 percent of Americans feel “proud” about Obama being elected, 67 percent feel “optimistic,” and 59 percent feel “excited.”

GOP voters root for Obama

Hart argues that the uniqueness of the Obama presidency is that “many of these GOP voters both admire him personally want him to succeed.”

Business owner Mark Parowski, a staunch Republican member of the focus group, talked of Obama’s “global charisma.” John Bray, an independent voter who manages onboard services for an airline, said “people will want to do business with him.” Realtor Jennifer Handy, an independent voter who leans Republican, said Obama made her proud. She said, “he is eloquent rather than” speaking in what she called Bushisms.

Despite this admiration, Hart noted that the focus group members were “very softly” with Obama. Roughly half indicated that they voted against McCain rather than for Obama.

Ron May, a Republican and network support staffer, said he “was going to go with McCain until he picked [Alaska Governor Sarah] Palin” as his vice president. Mr. Parowski said his vote for Obama was “way more of a vote against Bush and the establishment.” Later he said, “If I can vote Democratic, anyone can.”

In gathering information on the campaign, the focus group members relied heavily on the Internet and cited their lack of admiration for the news media. “I don’t trust the media to tell me what is going on. There is a definite bias,” said Ty Brown, a graduate student and independent voter who leans Democratic.

While Obama currently enjoys favorable public opinion trends, Hart noted that the “stakes are exceptionally large for this president” and that there is a “lot of work and danger signs ahead for him.”

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