Focus groups show Obama losing independents over oil spill

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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As oil continues to gush into the Gulf of Mexico, the results of a nationwide focus group effort indicate that Republicans aren’t the only ones questioning President Obama’s experience and ability to lead during a crisis: Independents are joining that chorus, too.

“Last year … there was still kind of a wait-and-see mentality amongst these voters toward the president,” long-time Republican strategist Ed Gillespie said of the Resurgent Republic focus group series of independent voters. “That has clearly changed.”

Resurgent Republic, a not-for-profit organization made up of high-profile Republicans, released the five-state focus group results Tuesday showing that the BP oil spill has independents concerned about how Obama will perform during a future crisis, such as a terrorist attack.

The focus groups were held in June and comprised of independent voters in battle congressional districts in Iowa, Ohio, New Jersey, Arkansas and Florida. Most of those in the focus groups, Gillespie said, voted for Obama in 2008.

During the focus groups, independent voters used the words “frustration,” “upsetting,” “confusion,” “incompetence” and “anger” to describe both Obama and BP. They drew comparisons of Obama’s handling of the oil spill to the way the federal government responded to Hurricane Katrina during the Bush administration.

“It should be troubling for Democrats should this critique take hold among more swing voters,” the report states.

Resurgent Republic’s board includes high-profile Republicans such as Gillespie and pollster Whit Ayers. Others who advise the group include Republicans Gov. Haley Barbour, former Sen. George Allen and strategist Mary Matalin.

Self-described Tea Party activists, who were even more vocal against the Obama administration than Republicans, also took part in the focus groups. In Iowa, Tea Party voters were asked, “if President Obama was a car, what type of car would be be?”

One man said an Edsel because Obama is “something that had a lot of hype, but failed to live up to expectations.” Another described the president as a “wrecked Ferrari,” because he’s “something that looked great many people, but [is] now ruined.”

Other results of the focus group:

  • On the direction of the country, independents expressed similar concerns to those involved in the Tea Party movement. They used words like “turmoil,” “rudderless,” confusion” and “frustration” to reveal anxiety over the country’s direction.
  • Independents are more optimistic than Tea Partiers that the direction of the country will improve soon.
  • Independent voters are not sold on Obama’s stimulus package, a sign that the White House has been unable to persuade swing voters that the stimulus was a good thing.
  • Nearly all independent voters in the focus groups find the country’s debt “unsustainable,” caused by reckless government spending, not a lack of tax revenue.

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