skip to main content
Americans See Different Strengths in Obama and Romney

Americans See Different Strengths in Obama and Romney

Obama lauded mainly for personal traits, Romney for business acumen

PRINCETON, NJ -- When asked to identify the greatest strength of President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in an open-ended fashion, U.S. registered voters tend to name various personality and character traits for Obama, led by excellent speaking and communication skills (11%) and for "helping the less fortunate" or being "for the people." Romney's perceived strengths tend more toward his economic experience, including being a "good businessman" (16%) and being "good at handling finances/budgets" (4%). Relatedly, 11% cite his economic policies.


Gallup asked respondents to put aside their voting preferences in naming the "greatest strength" of each candidate as part of Oct. 22-23 Gallup Daily tracking. While the majority of voters name something, one in four or more either did not name a strength or could not think of one for Obama (25%) or Romney (32%).

In total, 47% of respondents name some aspect of Obama's character as his top strength, compared with 23% naming a character trait for Romney. In addition to those mentioning Obama's speaking skills and care for the less fortunate, 7% cite his good personality, 6% say he is levelheaded or determined, and 5% each say he is honest/has integrity or is a strong leader. The top personal qualities voters name for Romney are having a fresh approach and new ideas (5%), being honest/having integrity (3%), and having leadership/strength/determination (3%).

A combined 23% cite Romney's experience, including his business and political experience. That contrasts with 9% citing Obama's experience, led by 5% saying he is "doing a good job" as president.

Respondents mention issue positions as strengths to a similar -- and relatively infrequent -- degree for both candidates. Fifteen percent of voters cite one of several of Obama's policy positions or achievements, led by foreign affairs (4%) and economic policies (3%). The 16% naming an issue-related strength for Romney is mostly composed of those mentioning economic policies. A small handful of others mention his positions on jobs, healthcare, and foreign affairs. A detailed summary of the candidates' strengths by type appears on page 2 of this report.

For Obama, Democrats Focus on Character; Republicans Focus on Style

In addition to "doing a good job" (9%), Obama is given the most credit by Democrats for having character strengths such as championing the people and the less fortunate (17%), showing strong leadership (10%), and having honesty and integrity (8%). Republicans, by contrast, are most likely to give Obama credit for being a good speaker/communicator (20%) and for having a good personality (9%). The next most common Obama "strength" Republicans mention is that Obama is a "good liar," named by 5%. However, nearly half of Republicans, 46%, have no opinion or name no strength for Obama.

Independents, a prime target of Obama's messaging in these final days, name character and style qualities as his top strengths. While the greatest percentage mentions his speaking skills (11%), 8% cite his likeability, 9% each say he is "for the people" and "levelheaded/determined."

Men and women voters have similar perceptions of Obama's strengths, although men are slightly more focused on his speaking skills than any other quality, while women give about equal weight to his speaking skills and concern for the people.


Men More Focused Than Women on Romney's Business/Economic Strengths

Of the three party groups, Republicans are the most likely to cite Romney's business experience and economic policy as his greatest strengths. Independents are not far behind. But relatively few Democrats mention either factor. That is partly because, with 54% of Democrats saying Romney has no strengths or that they can't think of one, Democrats are more likely than independents (29%) or Republicans (10%) to opt out of crediting Romney for anything.

Romney has been performing well in recent weeks with likely male voters, while trailing among likely female voters. The rank order of Romney's strengths are fairly similar by gender; however, men are much more likely than women to cite his being a good businessman, 21% vs. 12%, and are somewhat more likely to cite his economic policies, 14% vs. 8%. By 38% to 27%, women are more likely than men to offer no Romney strength, a finding consistent with their more Democratic leanings.


Bottom Line

For much of the 2012 election, Romney has tried to make the economy the centerpiece of the debate -- arguing that he has the business experience to improve on Obama's unsatisfactory track record. While simultaneously touting his foreign policy and economic achievements, Obama has put tremendous focus on character, drawing a contrast being himself and Romney on leadership, honesty, integrity, and compassion. With less than two weeks to go in the campaign, those themes come through loud and clear in Americans' perceptions of the candidates. Americans "got it." Still, whichever man wins, he may be able to credibly assert that voters agreed with his emphasis on what matters most.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of the Gallup Daily Election tracking survey Oct. 22-23, 2012, with a random sample of 1,065 registered voters, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

For results based on the total sample of registered voters, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 250 cell phone respondents and 250 landline respondents per 500 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, population density, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized U.S. population. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit


Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030