Early exit polling shows that only 39% of 2012 voters believe that the economy is getting better, according to the CBS News exit poll. However, only 31% said that the economy was getting worse, and 28% of voters believed that the economy was in a holding pattern.
Economic issues have been at the forefront of the campaign, thanks in large part to the country's high unemployment rate and slow recovery from the 2008 financial collapse. The Romney campaign has argued that most Americans are economically worse off than they were before Obama took office, whereas the president's campaign has defended his economic record, saying that Obama needs to be re-elected so that he can finish and consolidate the economic recovery. Exit polling shows that a slim plurality agree with Obama that the recovery is occurring.
That same polling also vindicates both campaigns' focus on the economy, with 60% of respondents saying that the economy was the number one factor in determining their vote. To the Romney campaign's slogan from this summer—"Are you better than you were four years ago?"—only 24% of voters answered "yes," while 34% answered in the negative. The plurality went to the 40% who said they were doing about the same.
In fact, the economy has improved since Obama took office, albeit very slowly. September's jobs report had the lowest unemployment rate since Obama took office, though its follow-up in October showed an incremental uptick of 0.1%. The consensus among political science models is that an improving economy suggests a narrow win for the incumbent candidate—in this case, President Obama.
Americans were slightly more unified on one economic question: a slim majority of 53% said that America's economic system favors the wealthy, though only 41% supported more government intervention in the economy.
UPDATE: NBC exit poll data shows that, while a majority of Americans don't believe the economy is improving, a slim majority are willing to blame George W. Bush instead of Barack Obama. Only 40% say the current president is to blame for the country's economic woes, while 51% say George W. Bush is.
Voters also think that Obama's policies are more favorable to the middle class than Romney's. Whereas 43% say Obama's policies favor the middle class the most, 52% say Romney's policies mainly favor the rich. A mere 2% think Romney's policies favor the poor the most, and only 10% believe Obama's policies favor the rich.