Those are the partial results from a focus group of Independent voters in Denver, CO and Richmond, VA sponsored by Resurgent Republic:

Participants in all four focus groups were asked, “If President Obama was a car, what kind of car would he be and why?” Voters who still approve of President Obama do not perceive him as a risky choice, but on the other spectrum, voters who disapprove believe he hasn’t delivered and question whether he can change course moving forward. Positive responses liken Obama to practical cars: a minivan (family friendly), an Accord or Camry (not flashy or ostentatious), or a Jeep (navigates hurdles). Those who hold a more negative opinion of the President compare him to cars with persistent problems: an old luxury sports car (looks good on the outside, but what’s under the hood?), Chevy Volt (good idea, but no infrastructure to support it), or a Yugo (all flash, no dash).

That’s the spicy blog fodder in these results, but the second bullet-point is probably more significant:

President Obama’s strength with these voters is based upon his personal appeal not policy approval. These Independents like the President, and they praise his “family focus” and view him as more authentic than the average politician. However, participants’ personal regard for President Obama does not transfer to his policies. When asked what they like most about the President, participants refer almost solely to personal traits like his character and speaking skills. At best, they credit President Obama for trying, but offer minimal support for his policies, including the economic stimulus or health care reform. Compared to four years ago, these voters are not where they thought they’d be today, so as a result, they are not convinced President Obama is leading in the right direction.

Focus groups do not produce scientific results, but the responses here track the results of the latest Third Way poll of independents and “swing independents,” which shows Indies closer to Mitt Romney on the issues, but giving Obama higher favorables than Romney. [Note: Obama’s unfavorables are equal to Romney’s — and more strongly unfavorable — in this poll.] Resurgent Republic suggests the overall economic picture may ultimately weigh on Obama. Are they right?

As it turns out, they may well be right. As political scientist John Sides notes at the NYT, voters’ perceptions of candidates as people are not necessarily consequential to presidential election outcomes, in part because perceptions of candidates are more a consequence than a cause of voting, in part because there are many potential trait dimensions on which voters could evaluate candidates. Sides tends to emphasize the role of partisanship is shaping these perceptions, but there is some evidence the same is true of independents (although I am unaware of data for true independents). For example, in the days before the 2008 election, the Washington Post-ABC News daily tracking poll showed a big shift among Indies on whether issues or qualities rate as the more important factor in their vote. At the same time, McCain’s edge among those more concerned with personal qualities shrank by five percent. In a terrible economic environment for the GOP, those numbers look like rationalization. Four years later, the establishment’s hope that Obama’s personal qualities will carry him to victory in a weak economy may end up looking like a rationalization also.

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