This week’s Post poll underscores yet again that Mitt Romney is benefitting from what you might call the presumption of economic competence. As Jamelle noted below, the poll finds that 47 percent of Americans trust Romney to do a better job on the economy, while 46 percent trust Obama, suggesting voters are open to the premise that Romney’s private sector experience has left him equipped to turn around a whole country’s economy. Among struggling white voters this is far more pronounced.
But dig deeper into the poll, and guess what: Despite the apparent acceptance of this premise, sizable majorities agree with key aspects of Obama’s vision of the economy and his diagnosis of what ails it, and disagree with Romney on those matters. The key points:
* A whopping 66 percent think the new federal regulations on banks and financial institutions either are about right (28) or don’t go far enough (38). Only 23 percent think they go too far — the position held by Romney, who would repeal those regulations completely.
* Fifty-six percent say unfairness in the economic system favoring the wealthy is a bigger problem than overregulation of the free market, which is named as a bigger problem by only 34 percent. Obama, of course, holds the former view, and Romney holds the latter one.
* Obama holds a sizable advantage on the question of who would do more to advance the interests of middle class Americans, 51-42. Meanwhile, 65 percent think Romney would do more to advance the interests of the wealthy. These numbers dovetail with the argument Obama is making about his GOP challenger, i.e., that Romney’s policies would benefit the rich without necessarily causing a “trickle down” effect that would also benefit the middle class.
All these findings point to an interesting disconnect, one that will be central to the campaign. Majorities seem to share key aspects of Obama’s economic worldview — that tighter Wall Street regulations are an appropriate response to the economic crisis; that economic unfairness benefitting the rich is a bigger problem than regulation supposedly smothering the free market; and that Romney/GOP priorities are stacked in favor of the wealthy. Yet many are still willing to grant Romney the overall presumption that he has a kind of economic magic touch that would enable him to turn things around faster than Obama has.
This disconnect gets at the heart of Obama’s challenge: Persuading swing voters that they shouldn’t be seduced by whatever impressions they have of Romney’s economic wizardry, or his “understanding of the private sector,” as his supporters put it. Obama needs to convince people who find Romney’s vow to fix the economy alluring to take a harder look at the actual policies Romney is proposing to get this done, as well as at the larger economic worldview and diagnosis of what’s really gone wrong that has led Romney to offer them. Of course, if this election ends up being all about Obama, as the Romney team hopes, that task becomes that much harder.