By a wide margin, voters expect the president to win the debate matchup, and the new survey points to key obstacles remaining in Romney's way. But there are also signs that some parts of the political landscape have shifted somewhat in favor of the Republican.
A slim majority of voters now see Romney's wealth as a positive, signifying his achieving the "American Dream." Fewer are focusing on issues of economic inequality and the gap between rich and poor. And there has been a big jump in the number of voters who say he has paid his fair share in taxes.
Just after Romney released his 2010 tax return earlier this year that showed he had paid a federal income tax rate of about 14 percent, 66 percent of voters said he had not paid his fair share. Now, after the release of his 2011 return showing a similar tax rate, 48 percent say he is not paying his fair share, and about as many, 46 percent, say he is.
Romney still faces challenges on this terrain. As was the case before the nominating conventions, almost six in 10 voters say that as president, the former Massachusetts governor would do more to favor the wealthy than the middle class. And by 57 percent to 39 percent, most voters say it is fair that some Americans — including senior citizens on Social Security, people on disability and the working poor — do not pay federal income taxes.
Romney's description of the "47 percent" of Americans who pay no income taxes as people who consider themselves "victims" in a secretly recorded video from a springtime fundraiser has stirred controversy and served as fodder for a tough new ad from the Obama campaign.
While Romney loses that argument in the current poll, an anti-government message has a deep vein of support. More than seven in 10 are dissatisfied or angry with the way the federal government is working, and by 51 percent to 43 percent, voters see government programs as doing more to create dependency among the poor than to help them get back on their feet.