Way back in the year 2000 during the Gore vs. Bush election, I was in grad school working as a teaching assistant for an American politics class. The race was pretty close and I was getting tired of the typical “Who do you think is better on the Economy, Foreign Policy, Education” questions so I decided to mix things up a bit. I pitched a group of college kids the following question:
“If you had to drive down to Myrtle Beach for Spring Break, who would you rather have on the road trip with you: Al Gore or George Bush?”
The class laughed a bit, but when I took a show of hands, Bush won about 55% of the vote. When I asked why, one generally non-partisan kid put in plain speak:
“Well, if you went with Al Gore, he’d probably have a map, and make sure you got there on time. But Bush would probably tell a lot of funny stories and buy all the beer.”
And that America is why the election in 2000 was so close and why the election of 2012 between Barack and Mitt will be very close. When things are either so good (like in the year 2000) or so bad (like in 2012) that the issues don’t seem to matter, people have to draw upon other clues to figure out who they’re going to vote for president. Does the candidate seem like a nice person? Do they understand my problems? Would they make a decent neighbor?
Fortunately the folks over at Slate.com magazine have figured this out already and released a very interesting (if not overly scientific) poll yesterday asking some of those down to earth real world hypotheticals that will drive folks to the voting booth. The funny part is the answers mirror what most of the high falutin-polls seem to tell us.
Question 1: If your car was broken down on the side of the road which presidential candidate would want you to stop and help you change your tire?
According to slate, only 23% of the public want Mitt Romney to pull over and help them fix a flat tire, and a little over 45% want Barack Obama. Which means almost a third of the public wants Michael Bloomberg to fix their tires. More importantly, I found this result to be a bit surprising; I actually would want Mitt to help me fix my tire. Not that Obama wouldn’t help, or couldn’t fix the tire, but Mitt’s got that hilarious sense of noblesse oblige to his personality and he’d probably relish the idea of pulling over one of his fleet of cars to help some Black guy out on the side of the road. A week later he’d probably turn me into a campaign story about how he helped a down on his luck African American veteran who lost his job due to Obamacare.
Question 2: If you were hiring one of the presidential candidates as a Baby Sitter who would you choose?
According to slate 46% of the public would rather have Barack in Charge of their kid’s lives, while only 21% would want Romney while again about 30% must be holding out for Fran Drescher.
Now these results actually made more sense to me. First and foremost President Barack Obama is great with kids, and has demonstrated that he will go to any level, I mean any level, to get toddlers to laugh, coo and conceivably donate to his campaign. More importantly, as Hilary Rosen pointed out, what little child rearing was going on in the Romney home was nominally done by Ann Romney with the help of a bunch of housekeepers. I have a feeling if I hired Mitt to babysit my kids I’d come home, he’d be gone and Ann would be there on the couch rocking back and forth saying “Daddy will be home soon.”
Question 3: Which presidential candidate would you rather have over for dinner?
This is on the one part of the poll that Obama clearly shines in. A whopping 52% of respondents would rather have Obama for dinner compared to only 26% for Mitt Romney, which I believe shows two things. First, this is a clear endorsement of Michelle Obama’s fitness program for America, since you know if Obama is coming over for dinner Michelle has already given strict dietary instructions. Second, the fact that Romney would probably pay for dinner was still not enough of an incentive to want to actually sit with him and listen to him talk for an hour. Bad sign.
What makes this poll interesting overall is what it says about the American public’s feeling about this upcoming election and these two candidates in general. Roughly half of the respondents say they’ll vote for Obama over Romney, yet half say they disapprove with his job performance. Clearly, liking someone is not powerful enough to bleed over into performance evaluation, and yet at the same time that might just be enough to beat someone as unlikable at Mitt Romney.
As I told my class all those years ago, when you’re picking a president you’re choosing someone who isn’t just running your country, but someone who will be coming into your home, through the television, radio and internet for 4 to 8 years. Regardless of job performance, that has to be somebody that you might like, someone you want to deal with and someone you might want to be your neighbor. Right now, as bad as Obama appears to be performing, most Americans would still rather have him at the block party than Romney.
This article originally appeared online at Politic365.com.