Pollster: voters still can't figure out Obama, but tax deal could help

The American people were expecting a JFK for the 21st century in Obama, but they aren't yet sure who they got, says Peter Hart, an influential Democratic pollster.

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor
Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who co-directs the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll speaks at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast for reporters in Washington on Dec. 8.

One of America’s top Democratic pollsters says the American public is still trying to figure out President Obama.

“The American public doesn’t hate him. And they are not rooting against him. But they are taking the measure of him,” Peter Hart said Wednesday at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast for reporters. “The hope was that he was going to be John Kennedy for the 21st century. I think at this stage of the game, they are not sure who he is going to be.”

Mr. Hart's observations carry weight given his role in Democratic politics. The National Journal magazine called Hart “probably the foremost pollster for the Democratic Party.” With Republican pollster Bill McInturff, Hart conducts the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, an assignment he has held since 1989. He is chairman of Peter D. Hart Research Associates.

Hart's comments were based in part on a focus group conducted Dec. 6 with voters in Pennsylvania’s bellwether Seventh and Eighth Congressional districts. The focus group was sponsored by The Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

In Hart's analysis, the public finds Obama difficult to understand because they "can’t get the whole person into an easy-to-describe package. And the most important thing here … is that [President Obama] is not relating to the person that he is with."

Noting that the president recently has appeared in smaller settings like residential back yards, Hart says "he is still no closer to getting in touch with these people. They just don’t feel that he touches them, that he reaches them, that he understands them. And if there is something he has to correct, he has to correct that more quickly than anything else.”

The president's standing with independent voters may be helped by the tax legislation compromise the Obama administration reached with congressional Republicans this week, Hart said. But he added, “the difficulty with the independents is this administration has no coherent center for them to understand at this moment ... you ask them what this administration is all about, I don’t think they can tell you ... and that is going to be the challenge for the president over the next two years."

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