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What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls - Week Ending September 15, 2012

The presidential race definitely had its ups and downs this past week.

At the start of the week, President Obama coming off a successful national convention had bounced ahead of his Republican challenger Mitt Romney. By week’s end, the bounce was gone, and the race looked like the conventions had never happened in the daily Presidential Tracking Poll. Likely to complicate the picture was the killing of the first U.S. ambassador overseas since 1979 and increasingly angry anti-U.S. protests spreading through the Middle East.

In Virginia and Ohio Obama leads by a point. In Florida, the president is up two. Romney has edged back into the lead in Missouri and is up six in North Carolina. 

In the Ohio Senate race, Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown has the advantage over Republican challenger Josh Mandel. In Missouri's Senate contest, incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill holds a six-point lead – 49% to 43% - over Republican challenger Todd Akin. See the latest  Rasmussen Reports Electoral College Projections and the Rasmussen Reports Senate Balance of Power projections. .

The presidential election remains a neck-and-neck affair, with the outcome very likely to turn on 11 battleground states, seven of which remain Toss-Ups in the Rasmussen Reports Electoral College Projections. Now that the national conventions are over, we’re surveying likely voters in those states again, and in most cases the candidates remain just a point or two apart.

Scott Rasmussen and his guests zero in on the state of Election 2012 in the latest edition of What America Thinks, appearing this weekend on over 60 television stations nationwide. Check for stations in your area. 

By a 50% to 43% margin, voters nationwide now trust Romney more than the president when it comes to dealing with the troubled U.S. economy, the number one issue on their minds as they go to the polls. But like the overall race itself, the two men run nearly even on several other key issues, including health care, taxes and energy policy.

Voters overwhelmingly rate job creation as important to their vote but are almost evenly divided when it comes to which presidential candidate they trust more on the issue. Forty-seven percent (47%) trust the president more on the issue of job creation versus 45% who trust his GOP challenger more. Voters are also narrowly divided over whether bigger or smaller government is the answer to America’s continuing high unemployment rate.

Voters express slightly more confidence in Romney when it comes to job creation in the private sector, but as Scott Rasmussen explains in a new radio update, voters aren’t confident that either presidential candidate has the answer when it comes to new jobs. (Listen to Scott’s radio updates three times daily Monday through Friday on a radio station in your area, courtesy of the WOR Radio Network.)

The president also now leads Romney in terms of voter trust on a number of other key issues including Afghanistan, education and Social Security. The partisan divide is predictable, but the president has a clear advantage among unaffiliated voters.

It’s unclear how perceptions of the candidates will be impacted by the murder this week of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and attacks on U.S. embassies in Cairo and elsewhere in the Middle East. Most Americans believe the Libyan government may have had something to do with the ambassador’s murder and are not confident that the Libyans will punish his killers.

The president’s convention bounce helped Democrats take a lead on the Generic Congressional Ballot for the first time since January. 

It was a week of exceptions. Voters are now evenly divided for the first time ever over whether the president’s national health care law will be good or bad for the country. Forty-four percent (44%) now think the law will be good for the country, the highest finding ever. For the second week in a row, 50% favor repeal of the law, while 44% are opposed. Only once in the past two-and-a-half years has support for repeal been lower.

But then as Scott Rasmussen points out in his latest syndicated column, “The health care debate is a great example of why Americans hate politics.” The way he sees it, “Both Republicans and Democrats pursue their plans with ideological zeal and reckless disregard for the truth in hopes of winning 51 percent of the vote. Voters hold their nose and choose but would rather have their leaders search for consensus. … Building consensus on health care reform requires taking good ideas from both Democrats and Republicans.”

Other surprising findings this week include the 47% of voters who now think America’s best days are still ahead, up 15 points over last month and the highest level of optimism since early 2010. Support for the bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler and the financial industry also have jumped. For the first time ever, most voters (53%) think the auto bailouts were good for the country.

It will be interesting to see whether this increased optimism holds or is just statistical noise. 

The Rasmussen Consumer and Investor Indexes, on the other hand, were little changed at week’s end. Most of those in both groups still think the economy is getting worse.

Also capturing headlines this week is the ongoing strike by Chicago’s public teachers for more pay and different job evaluation procedures. Americans continue to regard teachers very highly but have mixed feelings about teachers’ unions. They’re also narrowly divided over whether it should be legal for teachers to strike under any circumstances.

Americans tend to think public school teachers are not paid enough until they find out how much they actually are paid. Only 25% correctly recognize that the average school teacher is paid between $40,000 and $50,000 a year.

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In other surveys last week:

-- Eleven years ago this past Tuesday, thousands of Americans were murdered by radical Islamic terrorists, but despite the subsequent security precautions and the killing of Osama bin Laden, 65% of Americans think another 9/11-style attack is at least somewhat likely in the next 10 years. While the War on Terror continues overseas, most Americans believe the bigger terrorist threat to the United States comes from within.

-- Fifty percent (50%) of American Adults are now at least somewhat confident in the stability of the U.S. banking industry, but that still includes just 11% who are Very Confident. By comparison, in July 2008 just before the Wall Street meltdown, 68% were confident in the banking system. 

-- Confidence in the Federal Reserve Board’s ability to keep inflation under control remains at the lowest level of 2012 as Americans overwhelmingly continue to report they are paying more for groceries compared to last year.

-- Positive ratings for the U.S. Supreme Court’s job performance are hovering near all-time lows. 

-- Classes at many colleges are already in session which means full dormitories and another year of on-campus drinking.  Most Americans feel colleges should be held responsible for underage drinking on campus and feel not enough preventative action is being taken.

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