Obama vs Romney: New Data Shows the Economy, Jobs Are Not What Voters Care Most About

New data from the Pew Research Center may shed some insight into what voters are thinking about the president, and how Obama should adjust his platform if he wants to be re-elected. The report emphasizes the role that partisan news sources have played in shaping this election, and how these messages have fallen short in convincing voters.

A study by Affinnova Inc. released on Wednesday suggests that both Obama and Romney would have won more swing votes if they had picked strong female candidates as running mates. While it’s certainly interesting to discuss the implications of this finding, particularly in the wake of another recent round of Hillary-for-VP rumors, I was intrigued the company’s assertion that “this election is a referendum on Obama more than anything else.”

While Affinnova has not released the full results of the “Optimize 2012” survey, the company notes that two-thirds of Obama voters are casting a vote “for Obama,” while two-thirds of Romney supporters are casting a vote “against Obama.” Obama’s approval rating is currently hovering around 45%, according to Gallup polls. This is lower than George W. Bush’s approval rating in his re-election season, and lower than the average elected president's approval rating in the 15th quarter.

It would seem, then, that not everyone is happy with our president. To be sure, when you Google “Obama,” suggested related searches include “Obama approval rating,” “impeach Obama” and “Obama jokes.”  

In fact, according to a recent Pew Report, most Obama coverage has been negative. Indeed, almost all of the wider 2012 election coverage has been scathing. According to the Pew Report, 72% of coverage has been negative for Obama and 71% has been negative for Romney. So what makes Obama the driving force for voters?

Researchers found that the top narrative about Obama — that is, the story that the press has been repeating time and time again — is that he has not done enough for the economy. Thirty-six percent of Obama coverage hammers home this point, something unsurprising to anyone who has ever watched Fox News. Supporters of the president have retaliated by stressing that Obama has protected the economy, a claim which makes up 16% of Obama coverage.

In contrast, coverage of Romney was more varied; 14% of coverage suggested that he was an unfeeling capitalist, 13% that he was rich or elitist, and 11% that he was awkward, lacking in charisma or likely to make mistakes on the campaign trail. Although Romney has been attempting to portray himself as the candidate who can fix our economy, his message appears to have not gone over as well as he might have hoped it would in the press.

But it turns out that the press may not be responsible for supplying information about either candidate. Instead, it appears that most of the information about the 2012 election is being spread by none other than the candidates and their political supporters themselves. While journalists are still doing 19% of election coverage, candidates are supplying 18% of their coverage themselves, and campaign affiliates provide another 13% of the coverage. These trends in coverage point to the rise of partisan sources as the primary sources of political information. What you know about Obama may come from Romney, and vise versa.

Given all this, what do Americans think of the candidates? According to the Pew Research Center’s surveys, voters are fairly evenly divided: 37% think that Obama has the wrong approach to the economy; 33% think Romney does. More voters think that Obama will be a better leader, or find him to be generally more likeable than Romney. Surprisingly, this message has not been leveraged by the Obama campaign or been mentioned much in the press (unless the Feminist Barack Obama meme counts.)

If this election can truly be divided into camps of “for” and “against” Obama, it’s worth trying to ascertain what exactly is driving people into each of those camps. Is it really the economy, as both campaigns insist it is, or something else? It seems as though most of what we’re hearing about both Obama and Romney comes from the mouths of one or the other. If the focus on the economy isn’t driving voters, both Obama and Romney need to find out what is – and what we really want in a president.