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Independents still wary of President Obama's fiscal policies

by Christopher A. Guzman, published

President Barack Obama may be gradually regaining the favor of Independent voters in the midst of a Republican dogfight, but that doesn’t mean that the influential voter demographic still isn’t skeptical of the steps he’s taken to revive the nation’s economy.  The latest survey released Thursday by the Pew Research Center, taking into account Independents’ evaluation of the impact of the president’s economic policies, hints that there still might be some lingering questions about the effectiveness of such measures.

With ratings more positive on this front than in October of last year (and just about the same as in January 2011), Independent voters still give less than stellar marks when it comes to the impact of the president's policies. 29% of Independents at the moment say that the president’s policies have made the economy better, 34% say that his policies have made the economy worse, and 29% say that they’ve had no effect so far.

The Obama administration has instituted a series of measures in an attempt to spur the economy during its first term in office. This includes but is not limited to a stimulus package for nationwide projects in February 2009 and the federal “Cash for Clunkers” auto rebate program within the same year.

Independent sentiment concerning the effectiveness of the administration’s economic policy stands apart from the wide gap of polarization between Republicans and Democrats on the same issue. Approximately 71% of Republicans, up 12 points from January 2011, say that the president’s policy approach to the economy is making conditions worse. Meanwhile, up from 46% in January 2011, 60% of Democrats say the opposite.

The Pew survey also takes into account the latest rating that Independents give to the President’s job performance in office, a separate category from evaluating his economic policies.  The president may have sharply rebounded from a low job approval rating among Independents since January, but his approval rating among the critical voter demographic is no better than it was at this time last year.

At the moment, 45% of independents approve of Obama’s job performance while 44% disapprove. Although this may be a significant improvement from January’s numbers- during which 37% approved and 56% disapproved- they don’t differ significantly from February’s results in 2011. During that time, Independent voters were just as evenly split about the president’s rating as they are today.  46% approved of his job performance, while 45% disapproved at that time.

The president’s approval rating is also no more improved among voters overall than at this time last year, Pew found. Nationally, 47% currently approve of the way that he’s handling his job as president, while 43% disapprove. In February 2011, this was matched by 49% of those who approved of his performance and 42% who disapproved.

There’s an overall expectation- an increased optimism- among all Americans that the economy will get better in the long run, the Pew survey found. An increased plurality of those surveyed said they expect things to get better a year from now- even with pessimistic views of the current situation.

In light of all this, President Obama should not be gloating just yet. even with voters flocking from Mitt Romney at the moment. Barely breaking even with previous levels of support and with an election approximately 9 months away, Obama still has a lot to prove to the Independent electorate if he’s to make it into the clear.

Most of the analysis in Pew’s latest report is based on telephone interviews conducted February 8-12, 2012 among a national sample of 1,501 adults in the United States with a margin of error of +/- 3 percentage points. 508 Independents, 447 Republicans, and 478 Democrats were polled and each of these political demographics had a margin of error of +/-5.5 percentage points. There was a 95% level of confidence for the groups.

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