By Alicia M. Cohn - 06/18/12 09:00 AM EDT
A massive majority of likely voters fear America could be slipping into a second economic downturn just four years after the Great Recession, according to a new poll for The Hill.
But people remain split over which of the presidential candidates — Barack Obama or Mitt Romney — are offering the better prescription for economic health.
Among those concerned, 46 percent said they were “very” worried and 29 percent said they were “somewhat” worried.
The survey underscores the influential role economic issues are expected to play in the November elections, particularly in the presidential race.
With the fallout from the 2008 economic crash still fresh in voters’ minds, just 18 percent of those surveyed said they are not very worried about another recession. Only 4 percent are not worried at all.
The level of concern about a second recession was most pronounced among middle-income and lower-income voters.
Among those earning between $40,000 and $60,000 a year, 83 percent expressed worry about an economic downturn. Seventy-seven percent of people earning less than $20,000 a year shared that fear.
Sixty-one percent of people earning more than $100,000 a year said they believed the country’s economy was headed south.
There was also a partisan divide, with 86 percent of Republicans expressing worry.
Among Democrats, 58 percent said they fretted a downturn.
The deep anxiety comes as Obama and Romney step up their battle to persuade voters — the middle class in particular — that they’re better for the economy.
Last week in Ohio, Obama said Romney’s economic vision amounted to cutting taxes further for the wealthy, gutting regulations that benefit large corporations and reducing funds for education and infrastructure.
Romney described Obama as an enemy of private-sector job creators who has failed the middle class during his first term.
Obama’s vulnerability on the economy has been underscored by recent sluggishness on the jobs front.
The jobless rate rose from 8.1 to 8.2 percent in May and the economy added only 69,000 jobs, far fewer than expected.
Despite that disappointing report, Obama retained a lead over Romney — 47 percent to 40 percent — when voters were asked in The Hill poll which of the two “has better policies to help the middle class.”
However, in a breakdown of respondents by income, Romney had a strong lead, 56 percent to 36 percent, among individuals making between $75,000 and $100,000.
The two candidates are in a statistical tie among likely voters with an income between $20,000 and $75,000 on the question of who’s better for the middle class.
Obama’s lead on this question was strongest among individuals at the extreme ends of the income scale. Those making less than $20,000 and those making more than $100,000 chose Obama over Romney by wide margins.
Romney’s campaign trail emphasis on his private sector experience seems to have successfully cemented his “good for business” reputation.
According to the survey, 56 percent pick Romney as having the best policies to help businesses, over Obama’s 34 percent.
Romney is also voters’ pick for the best policies to help the wealthy, at 64 percent to Obama’s 21 percent. Among voters earning more than $100,000 a year, 80 percent said Romney’s policies would be better for wealthier people.
Republicans have accused Obama of engaging in “class warfare” by proposing to institute the so-called Buffett Rule. The proposal would raise tax rates on the wealthiest people— individuals making more than $1 million a year.
Obama also wants to raise taxes on individuals making an annual income of more than $200,000 and families with annual income of more than $250,000 by allowing the Bush-era tax rates to expire for those groups at the end of the year.
House Republicans, with support from Romney, have urged Obama to extend the tax rates for all groups, but Obama has signaled resistance to their plan.
The poll, conducted for The Hill by Pulse Opinion Research on June 14, had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points and a sampling size of 1,000.