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What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls
Saturday, February 11, 2012 

Here we go again. Another Republican surges up out of the pack to challenge Mitt Romney’s grip on the party’s presidential nomination. Meanwhile, President Obama appears to have helped his rivals with a bad political call forcing Catholic institutions to go against their basic beliefs and pay for contraception. 

In a survey taken Monday evening, Romney reclaimed the lead in the national race for the Republican presidential nomination, jumping ahead of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich 34% to 27%. Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum earned 18% of the vote, and Texas Congressman Ron Paul ran last with 11% 

Then the following day Santorum won the trifecta, sweeping caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado and a non-binding primary in Missouri. His numbers nationally and in other states began to move, reinforcing that Romney has yet to seal the deal with many Republican voters. Still, 75% of those voters predicted early in the week that Romney will be the ultimate nominee, but it will be interesting to see if Romney holds on to the leads he has in the next primary states of Arizona and Michigan.  

Since Tuesday, after all, there’s been an interesting development in our daily matchups with the president. Santorum runs slightly stronger against Obama than Romney does. 

Similarly, late in the week, the former Pennsylvania senator performed better one-on-one against the president than Romney did in surveys in the key electoral states of Ohio and Florida. A sign of things to come? We’ll see. 

The president, meanwhile, posted a 50% to 40% lead over Romney at one point this past week. It was his best showing against the former Massachusetts governor in over a year of surveys. Obama’s job approval numbers continue to improve, and other economic and social indicators suggest that Americans are feeling a little better about the president and things in general these days. 

Voter confidence in Obama’s handling of the economy is at its highest level in a year’s time. Twenty-nine percent (29%) say the country is heading in the right direction, unchanged from last week and the highest level of optimism measured in weekly tracking since May of last year. But 63%, of course, still say the country is headed down the wrong track. 

The Rasmussen Consumer/Investor Indexes also continue to show a higher level of confidence among these groups than has been experienced in some time. 

But the president dinged his improving political fortunes with a new policy stemming from his unpopular national health care bill. That policy forces Catholic institutions to pay for birth control measures that run contrary to the church’s moral teachings and has prompted an angry backlash from the Catholic hierarchy and others. 

Half (50%) of voters do not agree with the administration’s action forcing Catholic institutions to pay for birth control measures they morally oppose. Thirty-nine percent (39%) approve of the policy. By week’s end, the president announced “an accommodation” that would ease the offending requirement. 

Scott Rasmussen explores the political downside for the president in his latest column. “The issue puts the president’s unpopular health care law back in the news,” he writes. “Voters already believe that law will increase the cost of health care, and most also believe the decision on contraceptive coverage will add even more costs.” 

Remember, most voters still favor repeal of the health care law, the president’s signature legislative achievement. 

Voters responded much more favorably to the president’s announcement this week that the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan will be ended by the middle of next year. Most strongly favor that decision and think there’s a good chance it will succeed. 

Just over half (51%) of Americans nationwide also like the president’s proposal to boost government funding to increase the number and quality of math and science teachers, but they agree that teaching now is not a desirable profession to go into. 

Rasmussen Reports stepped up its state polling this week and finds that most voters in Michigan like the job the president is doing. They give mixed marks to their new governor, Republican Rick Snyder, despite his announcement this week that as a result of his budget-cutting measures the state now has a $457 million surplus. 

Many Democrats have high hopes for the Southwest in Election 2012, but the president has an uphill fight in Arizona where most voters disapprove of the way he’s done his job. 

The president still has some troubling economic concerns to deal with. Despite the Federal Reserve’s insistence that inflation is under control, for example, Americans continue to say overwhelmingly that they are paying more for groceries than they were a year ago and they expect to be paying even more a year from now.  Most Americans also remain unsure about the stability of banks in this country. 

Congress will soon be battling over budget issues again which will put the president’s pro-government approach in stark contrast to the Republican agenda of less government and less spending. 

Scott Rasmussen’s new book, The People’s Money: How the American People Will Balance the Budget and Eliminate the Federal Debt , highlights solutions to the nation’s fiscal crisis that can be supported by voters. He argues that the nation’s politicians created the budget crisis by pursuing their own agenda and ignoring voters. 

It’s disturbing to note that fewer than half of voters nationwide now believe elections are generally fair. Most think the system is rigged to benefit incumbents in Congress. 

Speaking of Congress, Republicans have regained the lead over Democrats on the Generic Congressional Ballot for the week ending Sunday, Feb. 5. Democrats led the GOP for the first time in roughly two-and-a-half years the previous week. Prior to that, Republicans led on the ballot every week but one since June 2009. 

Favorability ratings for the top four congressional leaders have improved slightly from last month’s all-time lows but are still far from positive. 

With Congress’ job approval ratings still in the cellar, it may come as no surprise that a plurality (43%) of voters nationwide believes a group of people randomly selected from a telephone book would do a better job than the current legislators. Thirty-eight percent (38%) disagree, while another 19% are not sure. 

Read the rest of this article at Rasmussen

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