CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Undecided voters are disappointed with President Obama's failure to improve the economy and keep his 2008 promise to bring hope and change, but they still aren't sure that Republican challenger Mitt Romney is a credible alternative.
This was the conclusion emerging from a focus group of 27 self-identified undecided voters held Monday in Charlotte as Democrats prepared to open their national convention and renominate Obama for a second term. All but three of the focus-group participants had voted for Obama in 2008, but the two-hour discussion showed how much his support has faded since then.
Several of the participants expressed deep anxiety about the future, with a few saying they sometimes have trouble sleeping because they are so worried about their economic situation. One middle aged woman volunteered that, for the first time in her life, she fretted about "how long am I going to be able to work?" because her employer is going through tough times. She said that some Americans may think things will get better, but she doesn't feel that way. She said people are "trying to make it to the end of the week. That's not getting better, it's staying about the same." Another women in the group confirmed these feelings. She explained that, "It's about feeding my children. It's about everyday living for my family, to make it every day...I can't handle this for another four years."
A third middle-aged woman said her employer had cut health coverage to save money and she lost coverage that she needs for her four children, especially for one child who is developmentally disabled. Half the focus-group participants said they or someone in their households had been unemployed in recent months.
Thirteen said they were worse off than they were four years ago; six said they were better off, and six said their economic situation has stayed the same. The other two didn't answer the question.
There was little animosity toward President Obama personally, even though he has been in office during the recent rough times, because he remains well liked, but there was plenty of criticism of his record. Half agreed with the word, "disappointment" in describing him and half said that he's "trying." Asked by moderator Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster, to give a word or phrase to describe Obama, the participants used a variety of terms including, "he doesn't come through...failure...uncertain...intelligent...negotiates to no avail...political...arrogant."
Asked for a word or phase to describe Romney, they said, "a decent human being ...determined ... knowledgable ...wealth ...unlikable ...rich ...old-fashioned ...caring."
Luntz, who conducted the focus group for the University of Phoenix, said afterward that voters are becoming cynical about the negativity of the campaign, especially the harsh TV ads they see in the batteground states such as North Carolina. Many of these commercials seem "fake or manufactured," Luntz said.
At the end of the discussion, nine of the 27 said they were considering voting for Romney after voting for Obama in 2008, seven said they would stay with Obama, and 11 remained undecided. "There is buyer's remorse [about Obama] and a real concern about the alternative," Luntz said.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Facebook and Twitter.