Last night, veteran Democratic pollster Peter Hart conducted a focus group featuring 12 undecided, ticket-splitting voters in Colorado, which illustrated the tough challenge President Obama faces in winning a second term. He's lost significant ground among these swing voters: Ten of the participants voted for Obama in 2008; only three of them said they leaned towards re-electing him in 2012. In an initial survey taking leaners into account, Mitt Romney led Obama 5-3, with four completely undecided.
Listening to the feedback from the group, it was striking how many of them have grown disillusioned from their own expectations set by Obama's soaring rhetoric from 2008, and the less-inspiring reality that transpired.
After being shown footage of a campaign speech by Obama, the prevailing sentiment was that the president was a slick salesman, but his words didn't match his actions."I got duped. I fell under his spell. What he's done with the car industry is the only real success," said Patrick Allen, a 27-year-old health care consultant, who voted for Obama in 2008. "I feel like I was somewhat lied to.""He came in as a wild card... I haven't seen him do anything extraordinary," said Kelly Capra, 49, a United Airlines customer service representative who said she'd vote for him if he "could do something huge, like really lower the price of gas."Most believed the economy was slowly improving, but not at a fast enough pace for them to justify supporting him again. And several expressed concern that the economy could again head into a freefall, opinions shaped by the pessimistic economic reports in recent weeks.
Almost unanimously, the participants said they'd prefer to hang out with Obama over Romney, but no one said that would shape their vote in November. It's a sign that even if Obama holds a significant edge on personal likability, it's unlikely to translate into many votes if they view his job performance unfavorably.Romney was an unknown to most of the participants. Most of the pure undecided voters were critical of Obama, but said they were unfamiliar with Romney. Only three said they knew anything about Bain Capital. His wealth, business background, Mormonism and being a family man all came up when prompted for free association connections. But it was clear that their perceptions were far from formed.Shown some of Romney's campaign speeches, participants commented that he was short on specifics and sounded like a politician."I identify with Romney's background, but Obama still has a lot of good ideas out there that haven't quite comes to pass, and I don't know what Romney has out there," said Stephanie Rydalch, 38, a state care provider, leaning towards supporting Romney.
The bottom line: The reactions from the focus group explain why Obama is going hard-negative against Romney - it may be the campaign's only way to win. Most of the participants sounded dissatisfied with president and were ready to make a change, but didn't know much about the challenger, either.