Public split on whether Romney’s Bain tenure matters in 2012

As Democrats intensify their attacks over Mitt Romney's tenure at Bain Capital, a new poll finds the public divided over whether his history as a venture capitalist hurts or helps the presumptive Republican nominee.

A new ABC News/Washington Post survey released Tuesday found 54 percent of those surveyed say Romney's role in buying and restructuring companies is "not a major factor" in their vote this year. Among those who do say it is a factor, voters are split: 21 percent say it is a "major reason to support" Romney, while 21 percent say it is a "major reason to oppose" him.

But beneath those numbers lies a bigger issue for Romney. As the Post's Jon Cohen and Dan Balz note in their analysis of the poll, 56 percent of those surveyed say an economic system favoring the wealthy is a bigger problem than regulatory overreach by the government. Just 34 percent say government constraints on free markets are a major concern—a finding that could eat away at one of Romney's key arguments on the campaign trail.

On Monday, President Barack Obama defended his campaign's focus on Romney's tenure at Bain, amid criticism from some of his own allies that he risks alienating Wall Street and members of the private equity industry. Romney's campaign moved to capitalize on Democratic criticism of Obama's tactics regarding Bain, releasing a video that featured Democrats, including Newark Mayor Cory Booker and former Rep. Harold Ford Jr., urging the Obama campaign to stop focusing so much on Bain and private equity firms.

On Tuesday, Priorities USA Action, a super PAC backing Obama's re-election, released its own video—this one showing Romney's former Republican rivals, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry, criticizing the former Massachusetts governor's history at Bain.

"Even Republicans know Mitt Romney has not explained how his experience profiting from companies driven to bankruptcy qualifies him to be president," Bill Burton, a former Obama White House spokesman who is now senior strategist at Priorities USA Action, said in a statement. "If Romney makes business experience the central reason for his campaign, voters have every right to question the many deals where Romney made millions while workers lost their jobs and promised benefits."

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