Americans believe Mitt Romney is better at addressing economic issues and Barack Obama is more likable, but in the aggregate Obama’s likability carries a little more weight than Romney’s financial sense, a new USA Today/Gallup poll shows.
Jeffrey Jones summarized the polling Tuesday for Gallup: “For now, it appears as if Romney's economic strengths and Obama's likability edge are offsetting one another, as voters are evenly divided in their preferences for whom they want to be the next president. Many of the important contextual indicators, such as national satisfaction and economic confidence, are below their levels from years in which recent incumbent presidents were re-elected. However, Americans have not warmed to Romney even though they view him as the candidate better equipped to handle economic matters, the public's overwhelming concerns this election year.”
The polling consisted of registered voters being asked which of the two candidates they perceive to be better in terms of six issues and four characteristics. Romney carried most of the issues, winning four (federal budget deficit, economy, creating jobs, taxes) and tying Obama on a fifth (health care). The only issue Obama won outright was foreign affairs. Romney’s biggest advantage came in federal budget deficit, where voters preferred him 55-36.
However, when it came to candidates’ personal characteristics, the president enjoyed a sizable advantage:
Is likable: Obama, 60-30
Understands the problems Americans face in their daily lives: Obama, 50-39
Gets things done: Romney, 46-41
In terms of overall voter preference, Gallup’s voter tracking for July 17-23 shows “46 percent of registered voters say they would vote for Obama and 45 percent for Romney if the election were held today.”
USA Today focused its write-up of the polling it co-sponsored on an entirely different angle than Gallup. Specifically, USA Today zeroed in on the data that emerged from pollsters reading respondents this script: “Now, I’d like you to think about Mitt Romney’s background in business, including his time as head of Bain Capital. Do you think his business background would cause him to make good decisions or bad decisions as president in dealing with economic problems the U.S. will face over the next four years?”
Writing for USA Today, Susan Page described the results emerging from the Bain-centric question: “By more than 2-1, 63 percent to 29 percent, those surveyed say Romney's background in business, including his tenure at the private equity firm Bain Capital, would cause him to make good decisions, not bad ones, in dealing with the nation's economic problems over the next four years.
“The findings raise questions about Obama's strategy of targeting Bain's record in outsourcing jobs and hammering Romney for refusing to commit to releasing more than two years of his tax returns. Instead, Americans seem focused on the economy, where disappointment with the fragile recovery and the 8.2 percent unemployment rate are costing the president.”
Politico’s Alexander Burns responded to Page’s analysis by first pointing out that those seemingly pro-Romney numbers stem from national polling, which figures to be affected very little by anti-Romney Bain ads that are being aimed primarily at swing states.
“But in terms of public data," Burns continued, "the impact of the Bain message has in some ways gotten muddier over time, rather than clearer. Voters who have questions about Romney aren't necessarily expressing them in terms of ‘Bain,’ as a piece of political vocabulary, and the fundamentals of the debate over the economy and the size of government haven't gotten any less challenging for the White House.”