Here at the Fix we are a big believers that perception matters more than reality — or at least equally as much — when it comes to politics.
Facts matter in the context of political campaigns but they don’t always — or even often — change the perceptions that voters bring to the race and the candidates.
And so we were very interested when we heard that the Washington Post and the Pew Research Center had conducted a poll in which they asked respondents for the one word that came to mind when each of the presidential candidates were named.
Here’s a look at what the poll found: (NOTE: The numbers below reflect raw numbers of people not percentages.)
For two of the candidates — former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and Texas Rep. Ron Paul — the most common one-word descriptor was “no”. (What, were no adjectives available?)
For former House Speaker Newt Gingrich the one word that came to mind most often was “old”. (“No” placed a close second.) Only former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum got good news in the one-word poll as 57 people used the descriptor “conservative” to describe him.
It’s important to note that this poll was conducted not only of Republicans but of the general public. And, the sample is of adults not registered voters and so may be less reflective of the views of those who will show up to vote this November.
Still, as Romney begins to wrap up the nomination, it’s interesting to look at how he is perceived by the American public. Putting aside “no”, which we chalk up to Democrats and some independents voicing their view on him, the next three most-mentioned descriptors are (in order): “rich”, “good” and “Mormon”.
While those might not be Romney’s ideal top 4 — he’d like “businessman”, “successful”, “family” and “yes” — they aren’t bad either. Obviously “rich” is problematic given that the overarching dynamic of the race against President Obama is likely to focus on the haves and have nots of this economy. But, the decline in the number of people saying “Mormon” is also quite striking.
Check out these trends:
One word does not an election make. But it’s pretty damn fascinating, right?