The Washington Post

Swing state poll: Romney still struggling to convince voters he cares

Mitt Romney started this campaign with a problem: an image as a wealthy elitist, out of touch with middle-class life.

New polls out Wednesday show that — even now, after months of campaigning and an expensive effort to introduce himself to voters — Romney still hasn’t overcome that first impression.

In the key swing states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, voters were asked the question, “Would you say that Mitt Romney cares about the needs and problems of people like you or not?”

In all three, more people answered “not.”

A new poll by CBS News, the New York Times, and Quinnipiac University found that 54 percent of likely voters in Pennsylvania, 55 percent in Ohio, and 49 percent in Florida said Romney did not care about their problems.

A smaller contingent said Romney did understand them: 39 percent in Pennsylvania, 38 in Ohio, and 42 percent in Florida.

President Obama fared better: In all three states, at least 55 percent said the president did understand their needs and problems.

Other statistics also looked worrisome for Romney. In Pennsylvania, voters with an unfavorable view of Romney outnumbered those with a favorable view by eight percentage points. In the other two states, about as many voters said they held an unfavorable view of him as said they held a favorable one.

“For Obama, favorable views outnumbered unfavorable ones in all three.”

The polls must be taken with this caveat: In all three states, significantly more Democrats than Republicans were surveyed, which could affect the results. In Florida, for example, Democrats responding to the poll outnumbered Republicans by nine percentage points, even though exit polls there in 2008 showed just a three percentage point Democratic advantage and exit polls in 2010 were dead even on party identification.

In the other two states, the party breakdown in the poll leans much more toward 2008 — a very good Democratic year — than 2010, which was a good GOP year.

Still, the polls showed Obama holding a lead over Romney in these three states, where voters will be inundated with political ads and candidate visits in the coming months. And they outlined the daunting political task that Romney — just returned from a rocky overseas trip — now faces at home.

Many voters seem to have absorbed Romney’s message that he knows the business world better than Obama: In the three states, voters were almost evenly split about which candidate would handle the economy best.

They also seem to agree with Romney that the U.S. economy is not improving as hoped. In the three states, less than 30 percent of voters said the nation’s economy was getting better.

And, the polls show that Obama is struggling to convince even his own supporters that his policies will help their personal financial situation. Among his base of likely Democratic voters, fewer than half in Pennsylvania and Florida think Obama’s policies will help. In Ohio, it’s a little higher, 53 percent of likely Democratic voters.

But voters do not seem to be warming to Romney personally, despite the candidate’s efforts to introduce himself as a straight-arrow dad who loves a good joke.

Now, Romney seems to be stepping up his efforts. In a new ad, he is shown driving an SUV, talking to voters like they’re a companion in the passenger seat.

“I know what it’s like to hire people and to wonder whether you’re going to be able to make ends meet down the road,” the candidate says.

David A. Fahrenthold covers Congress for the Washington Post. He has been at the Post since 2000, and previously covered (in order) the D.C. police, New England, and the environment.
Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.

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