I. Critical Issues Driving the Election
Across party lines, all voters say that jobs/unemployment is a critical issue facing the country. More than 8-in-10 Republican (83%), Democratic (83%), and Independent (83%) voters view this issue as critical.
There is also strong cross-party agreement that the federal deficit is a critical issue, although there are differences in degree. Eighty-one percent of Republican voters say the federal deficit is a critical issue, compared to 70% of Independent voters and 61% of Democratic voters.
White evangelical voters are roughly twice as likely as unaffiliated voters and white mainline Protestant voters to say abortion (41%) and same-sex marriage (38%) are critical issues, although even among evangelical voters these issues rank much lower than jobs/unemployment (82%), the federal deficit (77%) and national security (58%).
There are major partisan and religious differences in the importance of the growing gap between the rich and poor. Democratic voters are more than twice as likely as Republican voters to say that the growing gap between the rich and the poor is a critical issue (63% vs. 30%).
Approximately half of white Mainline Protestants (48%) and Catholics (47%) cite the growing gap between the rich and the poor as a critical issue. Only 33% of white evangelical Protestant voters say the growing gap between the rich and the poor is a critical issue—the lowest of any religious group.
Young voters (ages 18-34) and senior voters (ages 65 and over) also have significantly different issue priorities. Young voters and senior voters largely agree that jobs/unemployment (82% and 81% respectively) and the federal deficit (66% and 68% respectively) are critical issues. Compared to voters overall and senior voters, young voters are much less likely to say immigration is a critical issue. Only three-in-ten (30%) say it is a critical issue, compared to 41% of seniors.Young voters are more likely than senior voters to say the growing gap between rich and poor is a critical issue (51% vs. 44%). Senior voters are more likely than young voters to say same-sex marriage is a critical issue (34% vs. 22% respectively) although the issue ranks at the bottom of the priority list even for seniors.
II. A General Election Preview
In national head-to-head named matchups against Obama, Romney outperforms Gingrich, but Obama has a clear advantage over both candidates at this point in the campaign. Gingrich trails Obam
In matchups against both candidates, Obama generates much more excitement among his supporters than either Gingrich or Romney do among their supporters.
In a Romney-Obama matchup, less than half (49%) of Romney voters report that they would be excited about voting for Romney. In contrast, two-thirds of Obama voters say they would be excited to vote for him.
In a Gingrich-Obama matchup, a majority (55%) of Gingrich voters say they would be excited to vote for the former Speaker. In contrast, 65% of Obama voters say they would be excited to vote for him.
The patterns of religious support in a Romney-Obama vs. Romney-Gingrich matchup are similar, with the notable exception that Romney is running stronger among Catholic voters.
Romney maintains a strong advantage over Obama among white evangelical voters (60% vs. 22%). At the other end of the spectrum, Obama has large leads over Romney among religiously unaffiliated voters (58% vs. 25%). Obama leads Romney by 8 points among Catholics (48% vs. 40%). White mainline Protestant voters are again nearly evenly divided (41% for Obama vs. 43% for Romney).
In a Gingrich-Obama matchup, white evangelical Protestant voters strongly support the former Speaker (58% to 26%). Meanwhile, Obama has overwhelming leads among unaffiliated voters (61% vs. 22%), and Catholic voters (56% to 32%). White mainline Protestant voters are again evenly divided (41% for Obama vs. 41% for Gingrich). White evangelical Protestant voters who report that they would support either Romney or Gingrich are less excited about voting for the respective GOP nominees than the candidates’ other religious supporters.
III. The Republican Contest
There are strong signs that the Republican contest is becoming a two-man affair. Romney is now showing a 7-point national lead over Gingrich among Republican and Republican leaning voters (34% to 27%). Less than 1-in-5 Republican and Republican-leaning voters say they would like to see Ron Paul or Rick Santorum as the nominee (14% and 17% respectively).
For Republicans, the contest between Gingrich and Romney appears to be hinging on electability. Nearly half (48%) of Republican and Republican leaning voters report that Romney has the best chance of defeating Barack Obama in the general election, while only half as much say Gingrich has the best chance (24%).
On nearly every other indicator of candidate strengths, Republican and Republican leaning voters are about as likely to say that Gingrich and Romney fit the description including, “shares your religious values” (13% vs. 15% respectively), “best reflects the core values of the Republican Party” (22% vs. 26% respectively), “has the best plan to create jobs and promote economic growth” (27% vs. 31% respectively), “is most qualified to be President” (34% vs. 32% respectively), and “is most likely to bring change to Washington” (25% vs. 22% respectively).
Romney continues to struggle among white evangelical Protestants. When asked which current Republican candidate they would most like to see nominated as the Republican Party’s candidate, 35% of white evangelical Republican voters named Gingrich, 22% named Santorum, and only 17% named Romney.