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In exit polling, Ohio voters gave Obama slight edge on economy

By Lynn Hulsey, Dayton Daily News –

DAYTON, Ohio — Voters still stinging from economic woes appeared willing to give President Barack Obama more time to fix things, according to an Ohio exit poll following Obama’s defeat of GOP challenger Mitt Romney in Tuesday’s election.

Major national media outlets had called the state and the race for Obama, before final results were available.

Voters in Ohio were almost evenly divided as to whom they trust to better handle the economy and nearly one-third said they are worse off today than four years ago. But a slight majority of voters — 51 percent — still blames former President George W. Bush, not Obama, for the country’s economic woes, according to the poll of Ohio voters conducted by Edison Research for the National Election Pool.

“That’s indicating there may still be a George W. Bush drag on the Republicans,” said Nancy Martorano Miller, associate professor of political science at the University of Dayton. “It seemed voters were ready to give Obama the benefit of the doubt and return him to the presidency for another four years.”

Cox Media Group purchased poll results from Edison, which questioned 3,754 voters on Election Day in 50 polling places across the state and in phone interviews of those who voted early. The margin of error in the poll was 4 percent. Results reported here are from the close of polls at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, when the Edison showed Obama leading Romney by 3 points.

The poll showed sharp divides on some of the nation’s most contentious issues, including health care reform, taxes, abortion, and Medicare. Not surprisingly, voters’ top concern was the economy. Voters were narrowly optimistic about the economy, with 36 percent saying it is getting better and 34 percent saying it is getting worse. The poll found 29 percent of Ohio voters think the economy is staying about the same.

And while the 31 percent of voters who said they were worse off today than four years ago voted strongly for Romney, the 68 percent who said they were better off or about the same decisively cast their lot with Obama.

Obama clearly gained in Ohio from the state’s improving economy, which is recovering at a faster rate than other parts of the country, said Mark Caleb Smith, director of the Center for Political Studies at Cedarville University.

“It will be interesting that the slightly improving economy under (Republican) Gov. (John) Kasich will actually carry President Obama to re-election,” Smith said.

And in a state where the auto industry is critical, Obama was very likely helped by the fact that 59 percent of voters approved of the bailout of automakers, while 36 percent disapproved. Those who disapproved went strongly for Romney, who was criticized for advocating that the government allow the automakers to go bankrupt.

Romney worked hard to portray Obama as inept in responding to the Great Recession, but that apparently didn’t stick with voters, said Montgomery County Democratic Party Chairman Mark Owens. He said voters like Obama and want to give him a chance to right the economy.

“If this recession had started under President Obama then we probably would be talking about a different matter altogether,” Smith said.

Rob Scott, chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party, said Obama succeeded by convincing voters that Bush was to blame for the slow economy and with his drumbeat of criticism of Romney.

“There’s still some people that harbor hard feelings toward President Bush,” Scott said.

“In the state of Ohio we have been absolutely inundated with the horrors of Mitt Romney. I think the negative campaigning of this summer had a lasting effect on his candidacy.”

Smith and Miller both said that the high likability factor for Obama helped him. The poll found 55 percent of voters had a favorable view of Obama compared with 45 percent for Romney. Fifty-one percent said Obama is “more in touch with people like me,” compared with 46 percent for Romney. Importantly, said Miller, more than half of the 22 percent who said they liked their candidate “with reservations” were Romney voters.

“I don’t think the Ohio electorate ever warmed up to Mitt Romney,” Miller said.

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