Understanding by Design

Posted on Tuesday, 31st January 2012 @ 03:46 PM by Text Size A | A | A

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On January 30, the Pew Research Center in partnership with The Washington Post, found that far more voters say Barack Obama understands the problems of average Americans than those who say the same about either Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich.


Fifty-five percent of all registered voters say that Barack Obama understands the problems of average Americans very or fairly well. The spread between Democrats and Republicans was one typical of what we have been seeing for the past few months with wide polarization. Twenty-three percent of Republicans reported that he understands them Very/fairly well with 84 percent of Democrats making that same claim.


Three questions were asked: “How well does ____________ understand problems of average Americans?” Each question inserted the name of Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, and Newt Gingrich respectively. Three categories were then given: Very/fairly well; Not too/at all well; Don’t know. Thirty-nine percent say that Romney understands average Americans and 36% make that claim for Gingrich.


It’s interesting that for the Very/fairly well category 84 percent of Democrats think President Obama is in tune with their problems. This compares with 61% of Republicans for Romney and 60% for Gingrich. At first glance, it’s tempting to say that President Obama’s base is more loyal than can be said of the Republican base for either Romney or Gingrich. That may well be true. But to be fair, it should be mentioned that Romney and Gingrich are splitting the Republican base. Still, 84 percent is well over 20 points above and beyond either GOP candidate when it comes to instilling confidence. If this were a general election based on the greatest plurality, guess who would win the prize? That’s right, term number two on its way.


Perhaps most important here is the fact that this poll was conducted among registered voters. If anyone will be voting in November, it will be these respondents.


Say what you will about Newt’s ability to win the confidence of 60 % of the base, but I think the near draw of 60 percent of the base for both Gingrich and Romney speak to the current GOP “ambivalence of the Republican electorate in choosing between ideology and pragmatism — an intraparty struggle dating back to the candidacy of Barry Goldwater in 1964,” as Thomas Edsall points out. This ambivalence seems to be exaggerated during this campaign. Which candidate best represents ideology and which shows pragmatism, I’ll leave it for you to decide.


Could it have been President Obama’s recent singing the first line of Al Green’s legendary song “Let’s Stay Together”? Maybe, but I’m willing to guess it has far more to do with the hope and change that has become a work in progress. It’s the hope and change that has taken root among Americans longing for more than simply a politician who, at best, claims to offer a shot at defeating an incumbent who has awakened the top one percent of our society to their indifference to the rest of us.


Much of this high rating for the President has likely been building over the last few months as he has become a bit more visible and proactive in his policy stances. His “Kansas Speech” when he invoked Teddy Roosevelt’s New Nationalism and really began to drive home the theme of economic inequality.


Empathy and the perception of it in others is something that develops over the long run and is worth more than just a song.

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