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Voters: Economy Too Tough for Middle Class; Medical Marijuana Should Be Legalized

Results Part of New George Washington University Battleground Poll

March 25, 2014

MEDIA CONTACTS: Nicole Carlotto
202-994-6466, [email protected]
Angela Olson
202-994-3087, [email protected]

At right, download an interview with Christopher Arterton, poll director and GW professor.

WASHINGTON—Americans continue to hold pessimistic views about the health of the economy and the overall direction of the nation, shows a new George Washington University Battleground Poll of likely voters. The poll, conducted in partnership with The Tarrance Group and Lake Research Partners, also showed strong public support for changing marijuana laws. The issues could drive turnout in an election where both Democratic and Republican parties face electoral challenges.

Seventy percent of voters say the economy makes it too tough for the middle class to make ends meet. Assistance programs for the poor and tax breaks for the wealthy mean that the middle class has the toughest time in the country’s economic system, according to 72 percent of respondents. This pessimism extends to their thoughts about the future as well: 76 percent of those surveyed disagreed with the assertion that the next generation will be better off economically than they are now. More broadly, 64 percent say the nation is on the wrong track, which is a nine-point decrease from a November 2013 poll.

“As we head into the 2014 midterm congressional elections, voters are in a sour mood,” said GW Professor Christopher Arterton, the poll’s director.  “The long, hard, slow recovery from the economic downturn of 2008 should make voter discouragement a palpable concern for incumbents of both parties, particularly for Democrats given the continuing low levels of approval in Obama’s job performance.”

On the electoral front, one thing is clear: Americans continue to become more open to proposals to change marijuana laws. Plans to legalize medical marijuana enjoy a 73 percent approval rating and decriminalizing possession of the drug has a 53 percent approval rating.

Marijuana ballot initiatives look like potential turnout drivers as well. Thirty-nine  percent of surveyed voters reported that they would be much more likely to turn out to the polls if there was a proposal to legalize the use of marijuana on the ticket. An additional 30 percent said that they would be somewhat more likely to vote in the election under that circumstance.

The story at the ballot box for Democrats and Republicans is more mixed.

On the Democratic side, voters remain opposed to the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, by a margin of 43 percent to 53 percent. Messaging by Democrats designed to make billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch a focus of the campaign has yet to bear fruit, as 52 percent of voters surveyed said that they had never heard of the men. President Obama continues to struggle with an underwhelming 43 percent favorability rating with 53 percent who oppose, which could be a drag on Democrats even though his numbers have improved since the beginning of this year.

However, Democrats have substantial leads in several issue areas. Voters believe that the party does a better job than Republicans when it comes to solving problems (43 compared to 35 percent), standing up for the middle class (54 compared to 36 percent) and representing middle class values (52 compared to 39 percent). Democrats also hold double-digit advantages in dealing with Social Security and Medicare. 

“Democrats have closed January’s two-point deficit on the generic congressional ballot, and are now running neck-and-neck with Republicans,” said Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners. “To win the fall elections, Democrats must drive home a bold economic policy agenda that allows them to convert their substantial leads on solving problems and standing up for—and representing the values of—the middle class into advantages on jobs and the economy.”

Republicans have their own set of favored issues that could help them heading into campaign season. They have the advantage when it comes to dealing with the economy (47 compared to 43 percent), the federal budget (48 compared to 41 percent) and taxes (47 compared to 44 percent). Voters also trust them more than Democrats on foreign policy.

“There is an enormous opportunity for Republican candidates. Voters are ready to hear and consider the policy ideas of GOP candidates,” said Ed Goeas, president and CEO of The Tarrance Group. “Republican candidates who can cast themselves as backing sensible reform plans that will diminish the role of the federal government and provide better economic opportunity for all will receive the support of a significant portion of the electorate.” 

However, there are warning signs for Republicans ahead of the election as well. Among self-identified conservative Republicans, 61 percent reported that they are not pleased with the direction of the party. Self-identified moderate or liberal Republicans have a 57 percent disapproval rating for their party’s direction.

Democrats are more united on their party’s direction, with approval ratings of 70 percent for self-identified liberals; 63 percent of moderates say they approve of their party’s direction.

Among potential 2016 contenders, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leads the pack with a 54 percent approval rating among all likely voters. Vice President Joe Biden is second with a 44 percent approval rating. Possible Republican aspirants are tightly bunched, with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., leading at 38 percent approval, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at 36 percent and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at 34 percent.

More Information
For complete results, including additional numbers on the economy and President Obama, visit:

About the George Washington University Battleground Poll
The George Washington University Battleground Poll is a nationally recognized series of surveys conducted by Republican pollster Ed Goeas of The Tarrance Group and Democratic pollster Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners. The George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) and the School of Media and Public Affairs (SMPA) serve as the university’s home for the partnership. George Washington’s Gelman Library houses the data archive of the survey results dating back more than two decades.

The poll, which is distinguished from other surveys by its presentation of separate analyses from these top pollsters representing both sides of the aisle, surveyed 1,000 registered likely voters nationwide March 16 through March 20, and included a protocol for reaching mobile phone users. It has a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percent.

Interview Opportunities
Christopher Arterton
, founding dean of GW’s Graduate School of Political Management; Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners; and Ed Goeas, president and CEO of The Tarrance Group; are all available for comment.

For Dr. Arterton, contact Nicole Carlotto at 202-994-6466. For Ms. Lake, contact Anderson Gardner at Lake Research Partners at 202-776-9066. For Mr. Goeas, contact Brian Nienaber at The Tarrance Group at 703-684-6688.


Video Interview With Christopher Arterton, Poll Director and GW Professor