Would You Prefer a President Who Is Book Smart or Street Smart?

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Aug. 3 2012 5:48 PM

Would You Prefer a President Who Is Book Smart or Street Smart?

The Slate/SurveyMonkey Political Survey asks the campaign questions no one else will.

President Barack Obama at a campaign rally in Leesburg, Virginia and Mitt Romney at Downing Street in central London.
President Barack Obama at a campaign rally in Leesburg, Virginia and Mitt Romney at Downing Street in central London.

Photos by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images; Oli Scarff/Getty Images.

Call it the summer stalemate. It’s hot outside, the presidential candidates are running from one rally to the next, but, for all their hustle, we don’t really see much movement. In our last Slate/SurveyMonkey political survey, our pool of more than 1,000 registered voters told us that they felt the United States was veering off course; that around 30 percent—the largest plurality—“strongly disapproved” of Obama’s efforts as president; and that, nevertheless, the American people would still rather have Obama change their tires and babysit the kids than Romney. Americans seem unhappy with the economy—particularly with dribbling jobs numbers—but Mitt’s failure to connect with voters appears to be handing the advantage to Obama.   

Katy Waldman Katy Waldman

Katy Waldman is a Slate staff writer. 

Well, in late July, we again took the temperature of more than a 1,000 registered voters and guess what? Thirty days have passed, Americans still don’t like the economy, Obama still crests on a swell of charisma, and Mitt Romney still needs a personality coach. (Information on our respondents is available here. More information about SurveyMonkey Audience is here.) In July, a familiar 55 percent of survey-takers reported that the country was either “definitely” or “probably” heading in the wrong way.

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Still, the president’s ineffable magnetism remains intact. When we reprised the auto-in-distress question (“If your car was broken down on the side of the road, which presidential candidate would you want to stop and help you change the tire?”), Obama’s edge increased slightly. Nearly 50 percent of respondents, up from 47.6 percent in June, would prefer to see the POTUS approaching with a spare and a toolkit. Likewise, 51.7 percent of survey takers in July would hire Obama as a babysitter: an increase from 48.7 percent last month.

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But Obama’s marginal gains aren’t the most important shift in July’s survey. It isn’t so much that Obama is doing better during the midsummer months than Romney appears to be doing worse. The former governor had a tough month. In the shadow of the Bain ads, the brouhaha over his unwillingness to release his tax records, and a botched overseas “charm offensive” that one British paper derided as “utterly devoid of charm and mildly offensive,” he’s been struggling to get out of his own way. Heading into November, Romney will need to assure voters he can stitch up the economic wounds Obama’s administration has failed to address. And based on our survey numbers, he lost some ground in July.

For instance, when we asked whether respondents thought their lives would get better, get worse, or stay the same if Barack Obama were re-elected, the largest group (27.5 percent) projected that things would turn “somewhat better.” Again, that’s a marginal increase from June’s 26.1 percent. But when we asked the same question of Romney, people’s confidence slumped. Only 22 percent thought their lives would improve “somewhat,” which is bad enough. But the combined total of survey takers who supposed a Romney White House would make their lives either “a great deal better” or “somewhat better” fell from 34 percent to 27.6 percent between June and July. A combined 49.3 percent—up from 42 percent in June—suspected things would worsen with Mitt at the helm.

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