To really get at public opinion as it relates to elections, it probably isn’t best to isolate a few issues. Rather, let’s look at some omnibus measurements of the parties. For this, I will borrow from two excellent articles from political scientist John Sides. As Sides notes, YouGov asked respondents throughout 2012 to rate themselves ideologically, and to rate the candidates ideologically as well. Note that Romney consistently polls significantly closer to the “average voter” -- at least the way the average voter perceives him- or herself -- than Obama does
In fact, Larry Bartels has found that despite the Democratic Leadership Committee makeover of the early 1990s, Democratic candidates are viewed as slightly more liberal than they were in the 1980s, while perception of Republicans hasn’t really budged. The chart below shows how voters have described the parties on a scale of 1 to 7, with the high number being a very conservative position and the low number being very liberal, from 1968 to 2008.
Similarly, using cross-survey data to estimate how liberal or conservative the general public is, we note a distinct rightward movement throughout the Obama presidency: