You're Out of Touch, You're Out of Time

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
June 11 2012 2:25 PM

You're Out of Touch, You're Out of Time

Chris Cillizza argues that the Obama "private sector" comment will, indeed, haunt him like Marley's Ghost. Some of the key evidence: Four years ago, he ran a similar play on John McCain.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) declared that “the fundamentals of our economy are strong” even as the financial sector teetered on the brink of collapse. The Obama campaign seized on the remark as evidence that McCain was badly out of touch and lacked the understanding necessary to help fix what ailed the country.
“John didn’t lose in 2008 because of his comment regarding the fundamentals of the economy alone,” said John Weaver, a senior adviser to the McCain campaign.* “However, it did reinforce an image being portrayed by his opposition of being out of touch on such matters. The danger for the president is similar.”
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Okay, Republicans and the Wall Street Journal op-ed page will continue arguing that Obama's comment proves he doesn't understand capitalism -- that "he is a big-government liberal who thinks the answer to all problems is expanding the federal bureaucracy and who lacks even a basic understanding of how the private sector works," as Cillizza puts it. But the Romney campaign's hoping that it makes Obama look aloof and apart from the middle class. That's not what voters think -- yet. The best data we have on this is the recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, conducted in the middle of May, with a sample of 1,004 voters. Several of the questions deal with the feel-your-pain factor. On every one, Obama has the advantage.

- Who "better understands the economic problems people in this country are having"? Obama leads Romney, 48-40.

- Who "do you think would do more to advance the economic interests of middle-class families"? Obama leads Romney, 51-42; the last time they asked about "Republicans in Congress," he led them 52-32.

The Romney upside: He's doing better on these questions than he used to. Back in February, he had a 17-point lead over Romney on the "better understands the economic problems" question. But that current, 8-point lead is exactly the same size as the lead Obama held over McCain on that question in September 2008, before the Lehmann implosion. Romney, not Obama, is grappling with the "out of touch" problem. So you see why the Romney campaign takes every opportunity to prove that the sky is green.

What about the WSJ argument, that Obama will have to answer for his big government-lovin' ways? We look to another ABC/WP poll question:

What do you think is the bigger problem in this country - (unfairness in the economic system that favors the wealthy), or (over-regulation of the free market that interferes with growth and prosperity)?

"Unfairness" wins out, 56-34. That's the biggest lead it's had all year, up from 52-37 in April.

*Weaver left the McCain campaign in July 2007, so he's sort of being quoted here as an independent expert.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.