Obama’s ‘honest and trustworthy’ advantage — and what it means for the second debate

October 15, 2012

President Obama is regarded as significantly more honest and trustworthy than Mitt Romney in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll -- a finding that could inform the incumbent's strategy heading into the second debate of the general election Tuesday night.


Fifty-five percent of likely voters said that Obama is "honest and trustworthy," while 41 percent said he was not. For Romney, on the other hand, 47 percent said he could be described as honest and trustworthy, while an equal 47 percent said that he could not.

Not surprisingly, the question of trustworthiness drew heavily partisan reactions. Among registered voters, nearly nine in 10 (88 percent) of self-identified Democrats said the incumbent was honest and trustworthy while just 22 percent of Republicans said the same. More than eight in 10 (82 percent) of Republicans said Romney was honest and trustworthy; 19 percent of Democrats agreed.

Among electorally critical independents, Obama's margin was slightly smaller than with the overall electorate. Fifty-one percent of independents viewed Obama as honest and trustworthy, as compared to 44 percent who don't see him that way. Forty-five percent of independents called Romney honest and trustworthy, while 43 percent said he wasn't.

But in the handful of swing states identified by the Post (along with Democratic-leaning Ohio), Obama’s lead is even more pronounced on the question. Fifty-six percent of swing-state voters said the incumbent is honest and trustworthy, while just 44 percent said the same of Romney.

Obama's edge on the question could be an important piece of the strategy he adopts in the second presidential debate -- set for 9 p.m. Tuesday at Hofstra University on Long Island.

During the first debate 12 days ago, Obama seemed unwilling to repeatedly challenge Romney on the Republican's assertions of fact, preferring to defer to moderator Jim Lehrer or simply let the argument go by without rebutting it. (One notable exception was the exchange over Romney's tax plan; "For 18 months he's been running on this tax plan," said Obama. "And now, five weeks before the election, he's saying that his big, bold idea is, 'Never mind.'"

Given the Post-ABC poll numbers, Obama would do well to highlight when and how he believes Romney is bending the truth or shaping facts to his advantage and then directly appeal to the public with some sort of, "Who are you going to believe; me or him?" question.

While Obama struggled to frame the first debate in those terms, his vice president did not. Joe Biden repeatedly cast Romney and running mate Paul Ryan as serial fabricators willing to say or do anything to get elected.

"Who (do) you believe, the (American Medical Association), me, a guy who’s fought his whole life for this, or somebody who would actually put in motion a plan that knowingly cut — added $6,400 a year more to the cost of Medicare?" asked Biden at one point in the vice presidential debate last week.

 Of course, Romney will have some role in all of this too. In the first debate, Romney came across as the more knowledgeable and credible messenger on a variety of policy questions. He will almost certainly stick to the formula that delivered him a clear win in that debate. Obama, then, must find ways to call Romney on what he believes to be the former Massachusetts governor's exaggerations or misstatements and then rely on his edge on the honest/trustworthy question to tip the scales in his favor with the audience.

Libya flares as political issue: The political controversy over the situation in Libya continues to show no signs of abating, just a day and a half before the second of three presidential debates.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), one of the GOP's chief foreign policy surrogates, took to CBS's "Face the Nation" on Sunday to suggest the Obama administration might have engaged in a cover-up.

"I think they've been misleading us, but it finally caught up with them,” Graham said, adding: “Either they’re misleading the American people or incredibly incompetent."

The Obama campaign, meanwhile, continued to say that Republicans are using the situation for political gain.

Top Obama adviser David Axelrod said on "Fox News Sunday" that there “is no doubt (Romney) is working hard to exploit this issue," and suggested that Obama and Biden, who discussed the issue at Thursday's vice presidential debate, weren't aware of requests for more security at the consulate in Benghazi.

"I think what (Biden) was talking about was what he and the president knew, because these matters were being handled at the State Department,” Axelrod said.

Another Obama adviser, Robert Gibbs, assured that nobody wanted to get to the bottom of what happened more than the president.

Meanwhile, the father of former ambassador Chris Stevens says his death shouldn't be a political issue.

Fixbits:

A new Obama ad points to economic progress.

Another poll -- this one automated -- shows Romney making real gains in Florida.

Former senator Arlen Specter, who represented Pennsylvania for most of 30 years as a Republican but switched parties at the end of his tenure, has died.

Former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson's (R) son makes a joke about sending Obama back "to Kenya."

The Reno Gazette-Journal endorses Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) for a full term. And Heller outraised Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) in the third quarter.

The Arizona Daily Star endorses Democrat Richard Carmona in the state's open Senate race.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) contribute money to a former Paul aide who resigned from Paul's 2010 campaign after an image of a lynching appeared on his website. The aide is running for the state legislature and has denied any relationship to the image.

A poll conducted for the New Hampshire Freedom Fund -- a group allied with the Democratic Governors Association -- shows Democrat Maggie Hassan leading the state's open governor's race 49 percent to 43 percent over Republican Ovide Lamontagne. The poll was conducted by the Feldman Group from Oct. 8-10.

The National Republican Congressional Committee is up with $6 million worth of ads in 16 House districts.

Its Democratic counterpart, the DCCC, raised $15.3 million in September, winning the month by nearly $3 million.

An independent Siena College poll shows Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) at 49 percent and challenger Maggie Brooks (R) at 44 percent.

GOP poll gives freshman Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) an eight-point lead in his rematch with former congressman Charlie Wilson (D).

Embattled Rep. David Rivera (R-Fla.) breaks his silence.

Must-reads:

"Marriott is mainstay for Romney campaign" -- Jason Horowitz, Washington Post

"Win or lose, Paul Ryan is likely to have a big role in GOP’s future" -- Felicia Sonmez and Karen Tumulty, Washington Post

"Obama hunkers down in debate prep" -- Amy Gardner, Washington Post

"Same-sex marriage forces seek 1st poll win" -- AP

"Moderator Role Under Scrutiny – Before the Debate" -- Mark Halperin, Time

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Sean Sullivan · October 14, 2012