The empathy gap between Obama and Romney

It’s always been my theory that the polls most worth watching early in a presidential year are those that deal with underlying national attitudes rather than the more widely ballyhooed measures of hypothetical election match-ups.

I just don’t figure that most Americans are prepared 10 or 11 months ahead of time to decide which candidate will get their votes. History supports my argument in this regard. In more than a few of the presidential races in my lifetime, the eventual winner was trailing, sometimes badly, in hypothetical match-ups earlier in the year. But if polls had been conducted in those years on such matters as likability and empathy, the eventual election winners likely would have fared well. These relatively subtle factors sometimes don’t come to the fore in the voter’s mind until the election draws near.

This leads me to conclude, as I’ve said here on previous occasions, that Barack Obama has several distinct advantages going into this year’s presidential race that won’t necessarily show up in a hypothetical contest. Those advantages pertain mostly to personality.

Despite all the invective aimed at Obama by the right-wing noise machine over the past three years, the man is still viewed favorably as a person by most Americans. Polls show that his numbers in that regard are higher than those of any of his potential Republican challengers.

And now there’s another poll showing Obama with a wide lead over Mitt Romney on the issue of EMPATHY:

Presidential elections are more about hearts than heads. That is, most voters — particularly those loosely affiliated with the two parties — tend to vote based more on how they feel about a particular candidate than about the specific policy positions that the candidate espouses.

Voters want a candidate who they believe understands their problems, even if he or she doesn’t share them in their own lives.

That’s why new poll numbers from the Washington Post and Pew Research Center are so noteworthy…

Overall, 55 percent of registered voters said that Obama understands “the problems of average Americans” either “very well” (30 percent) or “fairly well” (24 percent). Forty-one percent said Obama doesn’t understand those problems well.

Those numbers compare very favorably for the president with the empathy scores for Romney, about whom 39 percent of voters said he understands the problems of average Americans and 48 percent said he doesn’t.

In several key demographic groups, the data tell a similar story. Among independents, 53 percent said Obama understands problems of average people well, while just 38 percent said the same of Romney. Among Midwesterners — a central battleground region in 2012 — 60 percent said that Obama understands the problems of the average person, while just 39 percent said that of Romney.


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