Washington (CNN) – Some of the leading Republican pollsters said they believe their party has a growing chance to grab a large number of independent voters because of their negative view of the economy, especially as experts question whether the economic recovery is beginning to slow.
With the nation politically divided, political analysts said the election's outcome could come down to which party better persuades this key bloc of voters who supported President Barack Obama in 2008 but were a major reason Republicans won back the House of Representatives two years later.
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The pollsters, working for the Republican polling and research group Resurgent Republic, conducted 24 focus groups of people who voted for Obama four years ago but are undecided so far this election cycle. Specifically they took the pulse of key demographic groups: Hispanics, blue collar Catholics, young voters and suburban women.
They said they found dire views of the economy prevalent throughout the sessions.
In a briefing to reporters Wednesday, Resurgent said in the sessions, voters generally found the president personally likeable and wanted him to succeed, but there was a large sense of "economic discouragement" among the group. The independents expressed strong concerns about the nation's unemployment rate as well as signs of underemployment. Resurgent said these concerns led them to have hope Mitt Romney could grab independents come November.
Take for example the blue collar Catholics. Neither Obama nor Romney has done particularly well with them in the past. They made up 27% of the 2008 electorate, and Obama won the demographic 54% to 45% the same year.
Pollster John McLaughlin conducted focus groups of blue collar Catholics in Cleveland and Pittsburgh. He said he found they believed they were carrying a large burden for the country while others are playing by different rules. The participants described the economic situation with such words as 'pessimistic' and 'dour,' according to McLaughlin.
"Whoever appeals to this target demographic will do so by connecting with their personal sense of suffering and the issues they care about, primarily their desire for quality, family-supporting jobs," McLaughlin and Haley Barbour wrote in a memo outlining their findings. Barbour, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee and a key adviser to Resurgent Republic, most recently served as governor of Mississippi.
The memo's takeaway: it will come down to which candidate better persuades these workers he would be the better economic steward going forward.
"If you look at this data of people who voted for Obama, who are undecided, who are representative of swing voters in the United States, the more facts they know the less likely they are to be for Obama," Barbour told reporters. "They already feel the economy is much worse than being reported. Unemployment is worst. Underemployment is under reported. And the more facts they get confirm their negative view of the economy and the direction the country has been going on. Obviously Republicans will want to make that the center piece of the campaign."
In his campaign appearances the president points out how his administration has helped the economy recover since he took office.
"Three years ago we can look back and say that we've made progress; that we're moving on the right track. Over the last two years, we've created over 4 million jobs, 600,000 in the last quarter one," the president said at a fundraiser earlier this month in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. "Now, things are still tough out there and we've still got a long ways to go, but there's no doubt that the economy is getting stronger, businesses are hiring again, the stock market is back. And the question then becomes, how do we build on what we've been able to do over the last several years to deal with some underlying problems that actually preceded the recession?"
Recent polls have shown the nation's independent voters seem to be persuadable. A Gallup survey of independents taken between April 21 and April 23 shows Obama with a 45% to 43% advantage over Romney, while the former Massachusetts governor was up six points earlier in April.
The New York Times/CBS poll found Romney with a one-point lead among independents last week, while in March Obama had a six-point advantage. A poll by CNN/ORC taken between April 13 and April 15 found Obama with a five-point lead among independents – down from a 15-point advantage in March.
Pollster Ed Goeas said he believes the next 30 days and what the economic reports show in that time could be critical in helping to determine the election's outcome. If the signs turn more negative then "we will then be … in an economic election," he told reporters.