Romney tops Obama in Georgia as economy dominates campaign

Mitt Romney has a strong lead over Barack Obama in Georgia among likely voters just three weeks until the presidential election, but a new poll for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution finds Georgians, by a larger margin, expect Obama to be re-elected in November.

The poll, conducted last week by Abt SRBI Inc., found Romney leading Obama among likely voters 51 percent to 43 percent, with 5 percent undecided.

The results reinforce the political picture that has existed in Georgia for at least a decade: Democrats find success in Atlanta’s urban core and parts of southwest Georgia while Republicans dominate nearly everywhere else.

But the poll reveals some nuances in how Georgians feel about issues such as bipartisan cooperation, how to close the federal deficit and — despite a general rejection of Obama’s health care law — one aspect of what is called Obamacare that would expand Medicaid.

Georgians are, in fact, eager for bipartisan compromise, with 93 percent — including 90 percent of Republicans — saying it is better for the two parties to work together.

Compromise, especially in Congress, has been rare, even though Republicans and Democrats acknowledge the major issues the country faces. An example is the budget deficit, which topped $1.1 trillion this year. Obama and congressional Republicans have said they want to address it but have been unwilling or unable to compromise.

Georgia voters, meanwhile, have strong feelings on the subject. Asked whether the deficit should be addressed through tax increases, spending cuts or both, a strong majority — 65 percent — said both.

But the poll also found Romney with strong support on pocketbook concerns as voters here trust the former Massachusetts governor by overwhelming margins to fix the economy and the budget deficit.

Jordan Janico, 19, of Johns Creek is studying economics at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. He’s voting for Romney because he believes “the country hasn’t gone in the right direction” under Obama.

“It’s not what I think the country ought to be doing,” Janico said. “Romney’s plan and not taxing the crap out of the rich is a big way to improve job growth.”

But Tom Lagow, 77, of Rome sees little hope that the proposals of Romney and his running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, will invigorate the economy. “They need to go back to school and take some math classes,” Lagow said. “Their proposals just don’t make sense mathematically.”

The poll results show more Georgians agree with Janico, said Eric Tanenblatt of Atlanta, a member of Romney’s national finance team, and support Romney’s message.

“And that’s dealing with jobs and the economy,” said Tanenblatt, the senior managing director of the McKenna Long law firm. “Most Americans right now are asking, ‘Are we better off today than we were four years ago, and do we want to experience the same policies we just experienced the last four years?’ and I think people want a change.”

Romney gets his biggest margins among white voters — particularly men — seniors, evangelicals and those in Atlanta’s exurbs.

The bright spots for Obama, who lost Georgia to Republican John McCain in 2008 by 52 percent to 47 percent, are among those ages 40-to-64, live in metro Atlanta and southwest Georgia, and those with school-age children.

While Romney has a commanding lead, more Georgia voters overall believe he will lose the election. Fifty-four percent of all likely voters say Obama will win, compared with just 37 percent who say Romney will be the next president. The poll carries a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Another concern for Romney: Obama’s supporters show greater enthusiasm for their candidate.

While the candidates are nearly even on net enthusiasm — that is, voters who said they were either “very enthusiastic” or “somewhat enthusiastic” — only 41 percent said they were “very enthusiastic” to vote for Romney, compared with — 63 percent of Obama supporters. Forty-nine percent of Romney voters said they were “somewhat enthusiastic.”

“That number jumps out at you,” said Seth Brohinsky, an associate at Abt SRBI, which also polls for Time magazine and The Washington Post. “

That “enthusiasm gap” also shows up when Romney supporters are asked whether they are voting more to support him or to defeat Obama. Forty percent said they will vote “against Obama,” compared with 57 percent who said “for Romney.” Meanwhile, 75 percent of the president’s supporters said their vote is “for Obama.”

Julia Bellair, 70, of Whitfield County in northwest Georgia, is one of those whose vote for Romney is more about getting rid of the other guy.

“I hate to tell you this, but one of the main reasons (she’s voting for Romney) is Obama,” she said. “I don’t want to see him in the office of the president for another four years. I just feel like he has absolutely ruined this country.”

Listing health care, unemployment, food stamp use and foreign policy, Bellair said Obama has been “a disaster.”

But Devlin Boswell, 26, of Stone Mountain said Obama has made great strides, considering what he inherited.

“I don’t think it’s easy for anybody to pick up that mess and make it better,” said Boswell, who works for a staffing firm. “He’s doing a good job and he has a plan. He isn’t just up there saying whatever he needs to get votes.”

Bellair and Boswell illustrate the split among Georgia women over the candidates. Obama’s lead in that category of 48 percent to 46 percent falls within the margin of error.

They are also split on one of Obama’s biggest accomplishments, the Affordable Care Act, sometimes referred to as Obamacare. Overall, a plurality of the poll’s respondents, 47 percent, said Obamacare’s goal of expanding access to health insurance was a bad thing, while 40 percent supported it.

Women also strongly believe Obama will do a better job on health care policy, with an even half choosing him over Romney.

A slight plurality of Georgians believe the state should adopt one of the measures under Obamacare, to expand Medicaid, the state-and-federal program that provides health insurance to the poor and disabled. Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, has rejected the idea, as have many Republican governors around the country.

“Obama is doing well on health care,” said Brohinsky, the pollster.

The president also is more trusted to set education policy.

Obama and Romney are essentially tied on who would do better representing the interests of the middle class, although women prefer Obama by 10 percentage points.

Liz Flowers, an Atlanta Democratic activist who has worked for Obama’s campaign, said the poll results are neither surprising nor discouraging, “given the current political composition of the state.”

“Democrats are building our infrastructure,” she said. “We’re focused on solidifying our base, candidate recruitment, staff training and things that will build the party.”

Obama is not far off his 2008 numbers, she said, and with Georgia’s economy lagging behind the nation’s recovery, it’s not surprising “Romney would (look) like the change for that.”

It is good news for Democrats, she said, that on issues “held closest to families, like education and health care, those things that matter most to women, are trusted to Obama and not to Romney.”

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