More than half of registered Nevada voters agree with Sharron Angle that the best way to improve the economy is to decrease regulations and cut taxes to allow private businesses to create jobs, according to a new poll for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and 8NewsNow.
And more than half of independents don't buy U.S. Sen. Harry Reid's argument that Republicans and former President George W. Bush are "most responsible" for the dire state of the economy, a finding that could help Angle win over those swing voters who will decide the whisker-close race.
But for now, Reid and Angle remain locked in a dead heat, according to the latest survey by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research. It shows the Democratic incumbent with support from 46 percent of those surveyed compared with 44 percent for his GOP challenger. That's nearly unchanged from two weeks ago, when they were at 45-44, and falls within the margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The poll shows the economy/jobs is far and away the top national and Nevada issue for voters in a state suffering from the highest unemployment rate in the nation (14.3 percent) and record home foreclosure and bankruptcy rates.
The question is whether nonpartisan voters will break Angle's way based on their stronger support for her economic positions or whether Reid's aggressive campaign will succeed in portraying the staunch conservative as too extreme on other issues and in her personal beliefs.
"This gives Angle another hammer to hit Reid with," Mason-Dixon pollster Brad Coker said. "What's interesting is, independents are buying her economic argument by large margins. I think they would be backing her even more if she didn't have all the baggage that's giving some people pause."
Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said voters have clearly decided they aren't happy with the Democratic policies of Reid and President Barack Obama. They haven't revived the economy as much as promised, despite more than $800 billion in stimulus spending.
"Voters want to send a message by voting against the incumbent, and so they're looking at Sharron Angle and asking, 'Can I live with her? Is she the appropriate person for my message?' " Sabato said. "And that's where she's still having trouble. And that's why this race is so close."
Still, despite Reid spending millions of dollars in negative ads against Angle, 19 percent of voters have a neutral opinion of her compared with 7 percent who have a neutral opinion of Reid.
Reid remains more unpopular than Angle, though not by much. Some 52 percent view him unfavorably compared with 41 percent with a favorable opinion, largely unchanged from the past.
Angle's negatives have been ticking up and now stand at 46 percent unfavorable, three points higher than two weeks ago. Her favorable ratings edged up three points, too, to 35 percent in the same period.
Overall, the 46-44 dead heat poll showed that both Reid and Angle are shoring up their bases, with Reid enjoying 88 percent backing from Democrats and Angle 83 percent from Republicans.
With early voting starting in five weeks, 6 percent of registered Nevada voters remain undecided, 3 percent picked "none of these candidates" and 1 percent chose another candidate.
Among the important nonpartisan swing voters, Angle is leading Reid, 42-33, with 11 percent undecided, 10 percent choosing "none of these candidates" and 4 percent other contenders.
The telephone poll of 625 registered voters was taken Tuesday through Thursday.
Economy remains top issue
Asked what the single most important issue is, about seven in 10 voters picked "economy/jobs" -- 72 percent as the top issue facing the country and 71 percent as the No. 1 concern facing Nevada. Other issues didn't come close, with only education registering double digits at 11 percent at the state level. The No. 2 national issue was "government spending/deficit/taxes" at 9 percent.
On the question of which approach voters feel is best to improve the economy:
■ 53 percent chose to "allow private business to create jobs by decreasing government regulation and reducing taxes," which is the basic Angle and Republican argument.
■ 34 percent chose to "have the government fund new jobs programs, provide more affordable health care and regulate big business and the financial industry from abusing consumers," a description that fits the Reid-Obama model of stimulus spending, health care and Wall Street reform.
Some 13 percent said they were "not sure" whether the business or government model is best.
Republicans largely sided with the business approach, at 88 percent support, while 65 percent of Democrats preferred the government-led model, suggesting one-third are wary of Obama's agenda.
Among independents, 63 percent backed the business-friendly style, compared with 25 percent who backed the government model. Another 12 percent were not sure.
On the responsibility question, independents placed far more blame on Obama and Democrats than Bush and the GOP, with 55 percent saying the current administration is "most responsible for the current state of the economy" compared with 21 percent who pointed the finger at Bush. Another 17 percent said both parties and leaders are to blame, while 7 percent weren't sure.
Nevadans were divided with 43 percent blaming Obama and Democrats, 42 percent putting the responsibility on Bush and the GOP, 10 percent on both and 5 percent unsure.
Not surprising, finger-pointing broke along party lines, with 74 percent of Republicans blaming the current administration, and 83 percent of Democrats putting the onus on the past GOP administration.
On the campaign trail, Angle says it's not her job as a U.S. senator to create jobs. It's a stance the Reid campaign has seized on to counter her criticism that as Senate majority leader, he has not done enough to pull Nevada out of its downward economic spiral. Reid says he believes it is his job to create jobs, yet at the same time he said he is not responsible for the state's problems.
Last week, Reid for the first time directly responded to Angle's criticism with a TV ad that blames the recession on Bush economic policies, Wall Street greed and the high cost of foreign oil.
"And Sharron Angle's blaming Reid? Come on," the narrator says in his ad. "That's Sharron Angle, extreme ideas that will make things worse."
Reid's attack line against Angle was undercut by Obama, however as the president promoted economic ideas that echo GOP themes to cut taxes and regulation so business can prosper.
"I've never believed that government has all the answers to our problems," Obama said in a speech last week in Ohio. "I've never believed that government's role is to create jobs or prosperity. ... I believe it's the private sector that must be the main engine for our recovery."
Coker, the Mason-Dixon pollster, said Obama is putting out a message that voters want to hear as an anti-Democrat wave sweeps the country. Republicans are expected to regain control of the House, and the Senate is in danger of switching to the GOP if endangered incumbents such as Reid lose.
"Obama is saying a lot of things he wouldn't have said six months ago," Coker said. "Reid's out there saying one thing, and Obama weighs in and sounds like Angle on the (economic) issues. There's nothing like getting hoisted on your own petard. It gives her another card to play."
even divide on social security
On another issue in the Senate race, voters are about evenly divided on what to do about Social Security, which is expected to run out of money in about 40 years unless changes are made.
Asked which of the following views comes closest to their opinion:
■ 40 percent of voters said the system should be maintained, even if it means increasing the amount of money people have to pay into it and/or increasing the retirement age to save costs.
■ 45 percent said retain the current system for retirees or those who will retire within 10 years, but then adopt a new retirement system that relies more on individuals saving and investing their own money and less on the government.
Another 15 percent were not sure.
Like Reid, about two-thirds of Democrats want to keep the current system, while about two-thirds of Republicans hold a view similar to Angle's and want to shift to a new retirement system.
There is an age gap, however, with 49 percent of those 50 and older wanting to maintain the system, and 57 percent of those younger than 50 wanting a new system in place.
Angle's campaign said the polls indicate the former Reno assemblywoman has economic beliefs that should appeal to independent voters she needs to win. She plans to focus her TV ads and her campaign speeches on the issue through Election Day, her campaign said.
"These numbers show our message is in line with what the undecided, independent voters are thinking," said Angle communications director Jarrod Agen. "And Harry Reid's message is counter to their vision for the future. They're not going to buy his line that he has nothing to do with unemployment in the state. And the more they hear Angle speak, the more they'll break our way."
Asked whether he is worried that Angle's views will prevent voters from picking her, Agen said the negative attacks can only do a limited amount of damage. She has accused Democrats of "making government our God" and wants to close the Education Department among other federal agencies she believes waste money and usurp states' rights and duties.
"They've heard his attacks on Sharron, and I think voters want something more from the candidates," Agen said. "I think in particular this year, there's a very anti-establishment trend. And they want to send candidates to Washington who are going to be different and say no to spending."
reid campaign dismisses findings
The Reid campaign dismissed the poll findings, saying the questions were designed to elicit responses that would align with Angle's views, though polls nationwide also show a majority of Americans are unhappy with current Democratic policies on the economy.
"Clearly, with its chosen candidate continuing to hemorrhage support, the Review-Journal has decided to ask leading questions about policy to try to prop her up," Summers said in a statement.
Reid has long had a contentious relationship with the newspaper because its editorials and opinion pages have consistently criticized his policies.
Summers also accused Angle of trying to avoid debating Reid on the issues, although both candidates have agreed to debate at least once, on Oct. 14. The live televised forum is sponsored by the Nevada Broadcasters Association and will be moderated by Vegas PBS' Mitch Fox.
Last week, however, Angle refused to participate in a proposed Oct. 21 debate with Reid on Jon Ralston's "Face to Face" TV show. Earlier in the campaign, she had challenged Reid to meet her on the program, which airs statewide. Ralston reported the Angle camp agreed to the debate, but backed out one hour later on Thursday. The Angle campaign apologized to Ralston, saying there was a misunderstanding and she has long refused to debate any time after early voting begins Oct. 16.
Summers said, "There is a reason Angle pulled out of a statewide public debate: because she knows her extreme agenda to kill Social Security, store nuclear waste 90 miles away from the Strip, and privatize the Veterans Administration are not only bad economic policies, they are out of step with Nevada voters."
Angle has said she wants to phase out Social Security by retaining the program for current beneficiaries but allowing young workers to opt out and open personal retirement accounts.
She also has called for exploring reprocessing nuclear fuel at Yucca Mountain, partly to create jobs.
Contact Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702-387-2919.