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Posted at 7:22 AM ET, 01/18/2011

Obama the (more) empathetic

By Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake

President Obama has made significant strides over the past few months in his ability to understand the problems of average Americans, according to a new poll conducted by the Washington Post and ABC News.

Nearly six in 10 American now say Obama understands their problems, an eight-point increase over where he stood on the question in September.

Obama's gains on this empathy question are consistent across all demographic groups and political partisans but are particularly notable among independents and moderates.

In September, 44 percent of independents said Obama understood their problems while 53 percent said he did not; fast forward to today -- 52 percent believe the president empathizes with their problems while 46 percent believe he does not.

Among political moderates, Obama stood at 55 percent on "understands the problems of people like you" in September and now receives 65 percent on the question.

Obama, too, has gained on the empathy question among non-college educated whites -- always his most difficult demographic group to penetrate dating all the way back to the 2008 Democratic presidential primary fight.

Among that group, 40 percent said Obama understood their problems in September while 49 percent said that in the most recent Washington Post/ABC poll.

Obama's rising numbers on the question are almost certainly correlated -- at least in part -- to the speech he gave last Wednesday at a memorial for the victims of the Tucson shooting. (The poll was in the field from Thursday through Sunday.)

But, regardless of the reasons, his gains on the question have to be encouraging for the president and his senior advisers who spent most of the fall fighting back against the idea that the American public had soured on Obama.

As we have written before, the vote for president is very much a "feel" vote. That is, voters choose their candidate less on any specific issue -- with the obvious exception of single issue voters -- and more on whether or not they believe that the politician "gets" them.

The empathy question, then, is one of the most important ways to gauge where a president -- or a challenger -- stands in the eyes of voters.

And, remember that empathy has never been Obama's strong suit -- he won in 2008 based less on the idea that he understood average people than that he could lead the country into a new era.

The "I feel your pain" approach of Bill Clinton simply isn't Obama's style, and he knows it. Given that, Obama's improving numbers on the empathy questions are particularly notable -- especially if he can maintain them over several more months.

Poll trouble for Hatch: A new Utah Policy poll shows Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) could indeed be in real trouble as he seeks renomination.

The poll shows Hatch running third in a three-way matchup with former Gov. Jon Huntsman (now ambassador to China) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz. Huntsman is at 48 percent, while Chaffetz is at 23 and Hatch is at 21.

That Hatch trails Huntsman isn't terribly surprising or instructive -- the former governor is popular in his home state, but he's thought of as more of a presidential contender than a potential Senate candidate.

That Hatch trails Chaffetz and is at only 21 percent shows the base is hardly enamored with its senior senator. That's very bad territory for any incumbent, regardless of the opponents he or she faces.

The poll isn't a great measure of the race ahead, though. That's because a primary in Utah can only have two candidates, and they must qualify for the ballot at a state party convention first. Then-Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) didn't even make it to the primary after finishing third at the state party convention last year.

Redistricting implications as N.M. House chooses speaker: The New Mexico state House picks its speaker Tuesday, and the results could affect the drawing of the congressional map.

Land of Enchantment political guru Heath Haussamen reports that if current Speaker Ben Lujan (D) is reelected to the post, he is expected to try and shore up the congressional district of his son, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), while potentially also shoring up Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) in the 2nd district.

If sate Rep. Joseph Cervantes is chosen, things could remain basically as they are now, which could leave the younger Lujan slightly more vulnerable but would make Pearce's seat a potential Democratic target down the road as well.

Rep. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) represents a Democratic-trending district that is still the state's most competitive. He could also benefit if the elder Lujan is picked.

Fixbits

Recently departed Florida state GOP Chairman John Thrasher endorsed his state Senate colleague, Mike Haridopolos, for Sen. Bill Nelson's (D-Fla.) Senate seat.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney said he believes Obama is a one-term president.

Fifty-four percent of Americans say in a new Quinnipiac poll that the economy is beginning to recover.

Must-reads

"Palin says criticism won't make her 'sit down ... shut up'" -- Dan Balz, Washington Post

"Political Cartographers Train to Redraw Districts" - Nathan Gonzales, CQ-Roll Call

"Don't Look Back" -- a profile of Rep. Darrel Issa (R-Calif.) by Ryan Lizza for the New Yorker

By Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake  | January 18, 2011; 7:22 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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