Obama, Romney campaigns struggle to earn public trust

September 14, 2012

Voters in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll are divided on whether President Obama and Mitt Romney's campaigns are telling the truth or purposely misleading the public.

By 49 to 42 percent, slightly more voters believe the Obama campaign is "saying things it believes to be true" rather than "intentionally misleading people." For Romney's team the numbers are roughly flipped: 43 percent say they are telling the truth, 48 percent not.

The data are sobering after two weeks of party conventions featuring soaring rhetoric as well as Pinocchio-worthy one-liners. There's little divide on the value of telling the truth: By 65 to 23 percent, more voters say it's more important to trust what a candidate says than for it to be agreeable. (Note: The poll predated a campaign spat over an attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya).

But voter loyalty is clear in assessments of the campaigns. More than eight in 10 Obama voters say his campaign is telling the truth (81 percent), while three quarters of Romney backers see shenanigans. Likewise, Romney supporters say by more than 4 to 1 that his campaign is telling the truth, while Obama backers say Romney's team is intentionally misleading the public by a similar margin.

Welfare and race

The Romney campaign's claim that Obama eliminated the work requirement for welfare - repeated in ads even after it was panned by three independent fact checkers - drew criticisms of injecting racial issues into the campaign, playing into decades-old stereotypes of "welfare queens" to gin up support among white voters.

Racial or not, few voters knock Romney for running afoul on racial issues. Just 15 percent of registered voters say his campaign is using the issue of race inappropriately, while slightly more, 20 percent, say Obama is wrongly using the issue. Almost all of those who accuse each side of using race inappropriately are supporters of the opposing candidate.

Whites and non-whites also divide on the issue. Some 30 percent of non-white voters say Romney is inappropriately using race in the campaign, compared with 10 percent of whites. Just 7 percent of non-whites see Obama using race inappropriately, compared with 24 percent of white voters. But it's unclear whether these attitudes are simply a reflection of partisan predispositions. Among likely voters, whites back Romney by a 55 to 42 percent margin, while non-whites favor Obama by 78 to 22 percent.

See results and interactive breakdowns from the Post-ABC poll here.

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Aaron Blake | September 14, 2012