Voters' decisions at the ballot box are increasingly tied to their overall views on the role of government, according to a poll released Monday by the Pew Research Center, with those who want government expanded especially likely to vote for President Obama.
The Pew survey found that 83 percent of voters who would rather see a bigger government providing more services favor Obama, while 65 percent of those who preferred a smaller government providing fewer services support Mitt Romney. Although voters' thoughts on the size of government have long correlated to their choice of candidate, that's the most closely those opinions have been linked since 1976.
Overall, the majority of voters, 56 percent, prefer a smaller government that provides fewer services, while 35 percent would rather have a bigger government that provides more services -- numbers that have stayed similar throughout Obama's term in office. Nearly six in 10 Americans believe that government should support people who can't take care of themselves.
Dueling visions of how America's government should function have played a major role in the 2012 campaign, taking renewed prominence with the release of Romney's comment during a fundraiser that 47 percent of Americans were "dependent on government" and wouldn't vote for him.
"Frankly, we have two very different views of America. The president's view is one of a larger government," Romney said later in an interview with Fox, defending his comments. "I think a society based on a government-centered nation, where government plays a larger and larger role, redistributes money, that's the wrong course for America."
The Pew poll also found that while the economy remains voters' top priority, concerns about other issues have slipped since the last election. In 2008, 77 percent of voters said energy was very important, while only 55 percent this year said the same. The percentage of those who said immigration and terrorism were very important also dropped by double digits, while concerns about abortion saw a modest rise.
The Pew poll surveyed 2,424 registered voters by phone between Sept. 12 and 16, with a 2.3 percent margin of error.