Fewer than four in 10 voters nationwide see either of the top Republican presidential contenders as really understanding the problems of average Americans, according to a new Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll.

Thirty-nine percent of registered voters see former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney as connecting at least “fairly well” with average Americans, although a slender 7 percent say “very well.” His main rival for the GOP nomination, former House speaker Newt Gingrich, does no better, with 36 percent seeing him as empathetic.

By contrast, most voters — 55 percent — see President Obama as doing a decent job connecting, including 30 percent who say he does so very well.

There’s an expected dose of partisanship behind public impressions of how well these three understand the problems of average Americans, but Democrats see their president as far more in sync than Republicans view either Romney or Gingrich.

Nearly one in three Republican voters see Romney and Gingrich as doing “not too well” or “not at all well” on empathy. That’s more than double the proportion of Democrats seeing Obama as out of touch. Republican and GOP-leaning women are less apt than men to see Romney and Gingrich as understanding.

It’s not all smooth sailing for the president here: 41 percent of voters see him not doing a good job when it comes to understanding the concerns of average Americans. The numbers for him are better than they are for Romney (48 percent not too well or worse) and Gingrich (51 percent), but there is sizable discontent.

A perception that Obama doesn’t get the problems of average Americans peaks at 53 percent among white voters without college degrees.

But among white adults overall, Obama registers no worse than Romney or Gingrich, and it’s no contest among African Americans: 92 percent of African Americans see the president as connecting at least fairly well. Far fewer say so of Romney (36 percent) or Gingrich (18 percent).

Read the full poll results

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