Denver (CNN) – Hours before the first debate between President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney, a showdown that will focus on domestic issues, a new national survey indicates that Americans have undergone some major changes on the basic questions concerning the size and role of the federal government.
And according to a CNN/ORC International poll, the public expects a split decision, with a majority saying that Obama will win the presidential showdowns but that Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP running mate, will win the one vice presidential debate.
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The survey, released Wednesday, indicates that there have been major changes on attitudes toward the government.
"The biggest: The number of Americans who say that the government should promote traditional values has fallen to an all-time low, a finding that might benefit many Democrats," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.
According to the survey, just four in 10 registered voters believe the government should promote traditional values, down from 53% in 2010 and 57% in 2008.
"Between 1993, when CNN began asking that question, and last year, a majority of respondents have always said that the government should promote traditional values. Now, for the first time, more than half say the government should not favor any particular set of values," adds Holland.
But the poll also indicates the belief that the government is doing too much is also near historically high levels.
Six in 10 say the government is doing too much that should be left to individuals and businesses. That finding could favor Republicans.
As for the showdowns, 56% of likely voters say the president is likely to do a better job in the three presidential debates, the first of which will be held Wednesday in Denver - with 32% saying that Romney will have the upper hand.
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The new numbers on which presidential candidate will win the debates are in-line with a previous CNN poll, which asked the same question in early September, and the results are very similar to other surveys released this week by other organizations.
Next week Vice President Joe Biden and Ryan face off in Danville, Kentucky, in the only vice presidential debate.
The CNN poll indicates that 55% say the Wisconsin congressman will win, with 39% saying that Biden will come out victorious.
What is the issue that worries Americans the most?
Nearly half of registered voters questioned say the economy is the most important issue facing the country today - not surprising when nearly three quarters say the economy is in poor shape.
The economy is followed at a great distance by the federal budget deficit (15%), health care (12%), and education (10%).
"You have to get way down the list before any foreign policy issues appear, and fewer than one in 20 pick Afghanistan or terrorism as the number-one issue," says Holland.
Which economic issue is the biggest concern to most Americans?
Forty-four percent say unemployment is the top economic problem; the federal budget is in second place with 28%.
Although more than seven in 10 say the economy is in "somewhat poor" or "very poor" shape, there are signs of optimism about achieving the "American dream."
In 2010, 19% of registered voters said they would never achieve the American dream. That figure has dropped to 12% now; with 44% of voters say they have achieved the American dream and 42% say they will do so eventually.
The CNN poll was conducted by ORC International from Sept. 28-30, with 1,013 adults nationwide, including 883 registered voters and 783 likely voters questioned by telephone.
The surveys' overall sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points, with a sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for questions of registered or likely voters.
CNN Political Editor Paul Steinhauser contributed to this story