The Washington Post

Obama has an advantage in believability

With the general election taking shape, many organizations are publishing worthwhile voter research and benchmark polling that offer useful analysis about what issues and which voter sentiments will shape the race. The Post published one such useful poll today.

I've said before, I would avoid assigning much meaning to the head-to-head horse-race snapshots, but there is plenty to learn by reading between the numbers.  

President Obama starts with a significant advantage in "personal attributes," as The Post puts it, which means the president has a big advantage in what I call believability. If you are the more believable candidate you obviously benefit from less skepticism and more people accept what you say at face value.

According to today's poll, 76 percent of Americans believe the economy is still in recession, and many say that their local economy hasn't even started to improve. The president will have a hard time convincing anyone that the economy isn't too bad. If he is smart, he won't really try.  

One of the central questions in November will be, "Is the recession and the troubled economy a reason to vote for President Obama or a reason to vote against him?" Or simply put, who offers greater prospects for economic security during frightening times, Obama or Mitt Romney? This question trumps many others among voters who are still suffering the effects of the recession, especially women.  

The president will have to deal with his lousy overall economic record and Romney will need to beat the stereotype of a heartless corporate raider. Advantage Obama.

Can better economic security be found in the private sector, or in government jobs, or in government-supported jobs combined with government programs that offer a safety net? Today's Post poll doesn't directly address this, but all my political instincts suggest Obama has a big advantage when people analyze their own income security and lay awake at night worrying about their fragile economic position and what will happen if they lose what they've got, be it a job or some public sector benefits.

It is easy to think the bad economy will be Obama's downfall, but while voters don't want more of the same, they don't want to risk what they've got. If Obama succeeds in making the question in November, "Do you want to take your chances by empowering financiers and hoping for the best in a laissez faire economy, or keep what you've got while things slowly improve?," he will be hard to beat.

Ed Rogers is a contributor to the PostPartisan blog, a political consultant and a veteran of the White House and several national campaigns. He is the chairman of the lobbying and communications firm BGR Group, which he founded with former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour in 1991.


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