wpostServer: http://css.washingtonpost.com/wpost

Barack Obama’s empathy edge

at 07:23 AM ET, 04/10/2012

Presidential elections are rarely won and lost on policy. Voters instead tend to choose the person they most want to be president based on who they like. And that feeling is heavily influenced by which of the candidates they believe best understands their hopes and dreams.

Call it the empathy factor. And it matters. A lot.


US President Barack Obama listens to a translation while speaking to the press after a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House April 9, 2012 in Washington, DC. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

New national polling done by the Washington Post and ABC News shows that President Obama has a significant edge over former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney on the empathy question — although the gap between the two men has narrowed slightly since February.

Asked which man “better understands the economic problems people in this country are having”, 49 percent of people said Obama while 37 percent named Romney. Nine percent said neither man understood the economic problems of regular people while two percent said both men did.

A look inside the numbers tells a similar story. Among electorally critical independents, Obama enjoys a 47 percent to 35 percent edge over Romney. Women favor Obama over Romney by 20 points on the empathy question.

Republicans in search of a silver lining in the numbers will note that as recently as an early February Post-ABC survey, Obama held a 17-point edge on the empathy question.

In our mind, tracking how the two candidates perform on this question between now and November is the single best measure (or at least one of them) of how the race will turn out.

In times of economic uncertainty — and this very clearly is one (three-quarters of people think the economy is still in recession in the Post-ABC poll) — feeling like you have a president who “gets” you is hugely critical.

Neither Obama nor Romney are naturals on the empathy front. Obama, as we have written, tends toward a professorial approach to issues (not exactly warm and fuzzy) while Romney’s personal wealth and awkwardness on the campaign trial make him tough to relate to.

Obama starts with the edge — thanks, in no small part, to the difficulties Romney has had to endure during the first four months of the Republican presidential primary — in this crucial fight.

Romney must — MUST — close the empathy gap to win this fall.

Obama campaign to target Romney on tax returns: For the second time in his campaign, Romney’s opponents will target his refusal to release his tax returns.

The Obama campaign will begin an offensive today aimed at putting pressure on Romney to release more than just his two most recent tax returns.

The effort will focus on the idea that Romney is trying to hide something by not releasing his previous returns, and pointing out that he has paid a much lower income tax rate than most Americans.

Democrats are currently pushing legislation — dubbed the “Buffett Rule” — that would force wealthy Americans to pay at least 30 percent of their income in taxes.

Romney’s GOP opponents previously attacked him — with success — for declining to release the two tax returns that he eventually did produce.

Martinez says she would turn down VP slot: New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R), who has been mentioned by some as a potential vice presidential nominee, says she would turn down the job if offered.

Martinez, like Sarah Palin, has a family member with a developmental disability — her sister. But for Martinez, that’s a deal-breaker.

“The family has to be a consideration, and for me to take (my sister) to Washington would be to separate her from … the family that’s down there, and that would be devastating,” Martinez told the Albuquerque Journal. “I just couldn’t do it.”

That’s a pretty significant denial. While it’s not impossible to see Martinez potentially changing her mind if the opportunity arises, she certainly isn’t setting herself up to take the job.

Martinez is among the nation’s most popular governors, and as a Latino woman, would have a great profile to fill out the GOP ticket.

FreedomWorks backs away from Hatch: FreedomWorks, the tea party-aligned organization that played a major role in defeating Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) in 2010, is backing off its campaign against Utah’s other senator, Orrin Hatch.

In an interview with Politico, the group’s spokesman acknowledged it is shifting resources to Senate primaries in Indiana and Texas. The move comes after the group spent half a million dollars in the runup to the state party convention, and just as Hatch is starting to look like a strong favorite for renomination.

“I do think we are re-directing our resources a bit toward Texas and Indiana through the end of May. We will have a presence at the Utah convention, but we’ve decided to focus more on these other states,” said FreedomWorks staffer Brendan Steinhauser.

Hatch’s campaign recently released a poll showing him as a strong favorite at the state party convention later this month. A candidate can secure the nomination with 60 percent of the convention vote, and the poll showed Hatch clearing that threshold with no opponent threatening him.

Fixbits:

A poll of independents in swing states by the Democratic-leaning group Third Way shows Obama leading among independent swing voters 35 percent to 29 percent.

Here’s video of a 23-year-old Romney talking about his mother’s Senate campaign.

Obama leads Romney 47 percent to 43 percent in Michigan, according to a new EPIC/MRA poll, but Romney is gaining among independents.

Former congressman David Obey (D-Wis.) endorses Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D) in the state’s recall election. Barrett has labor-backed Democratic opposition.

Rep. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) raised $490,000 in the first quarter for his Senate campaign. He faces a primary with state Auditor Hector Balderas, with the winner like to face former congresswoman Heather Wilson (R).

Nebraska state Sen. Deb Fischer (R) is up with an ad in the state’s open U.S. senate race. Fischer is a dark horse candidate.

Meanwhile, Wilson gets some fundraising help from Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R).

West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) outraises his repeat GOP opponent, Bill Maloney, by pulling in $1 million so far this year.

Reps. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) and Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) raised about the same amount of money in the first quarter for their primary matchup.

Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) raised a very strong $484,000.

Donald Trump will headline the North Carolina Republican Party’s annual dinner on June 1.

Must-reads:

Dick Lugar: Too mild to be memorable?” — Melinda Henneberger, Washington Post

Some Mitt Romney advisers don’t like his health law” — Jennifer Haberkorn, Politico

David Rivera friendship risky for Marco Rubio” — Manu Raju, Politico

 
Read what others are saying