Q&A with pollster Peter Hart

At a Dec. 8 Monitor breakfast, Democratic pollster Peter Hart discussed the public's view of Obama, the 2012 presidential and Senate elections, and cutting the federal deficit.

Michael Bonfigli/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Democratic pollster Peter Hart said the Obama administration lacks a "coherent center" in the minds of Independent voters.

Democratic pollster Peter HART is "probably the foremost pollster for the Democratic Party," according to National Journal magazine. Mr. Hart, codirector of the NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll, was the guest at the Dec. 8 Monitor breakfast in Washington, D.C.

The public's view of President Obama:

"The American public doesn't hate him. And they are not rooting against him. But they are taking the measure of him.... 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. Obama's need to connect with the public:

"The difficulty is that they can't get the whole person into an easy-to-describe package.... 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."

Obama and independent voters:

"The difficulty with the independents is this administration has no coherent center for them to understand at this moment.... You ask them what is this administration all about, I don't think they can tell you."

Prospects for a primary challenge to the president:

"If the challenge is going to come, I think it will come [from] Afghanistan.... I do not think it will be on the domestic front. All I can tell you is that no president fares well with a primary."

The outlook for Democratic losses in the Senate in 2012:

"The numbers in 2012 are so daunting on the Senate side [23 members of the Democratic caucus will be up for reelection, versus 10 Republicans].... The hardest thing about an election of this type ... is that a lot of good Democrats will make the decision not to run.... It is going to make the Senate that much more difficult to hold."

The public appetite for action to cut the federal deficit:

"We did a poll ... and we asked people about the deficit.... And what it says is the public has no appetite to do anything on the deficit. Anything that means any kind of sacrifice, any kind of change, the public is just in no mood to do."

The biggest challenge for Republicans:

"They are going to be pushed very hard by the tea party group and by Fox News and the various radio hosts ... [and] that is going to push them very much away from the center, and they need to get to the center."

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