WASHINGTON -- Voters remain overwhelmingly pessimistic about a still sluggish economy, yet appear poised to reelect President Barack Obama because of perceptions that he understands their lives better than Republican nominee Mitt Romney and would do more to favor the middle class rather than the very wealthy.
That's the message reinforced by a new round of national polls, which show Obama maintaining the lead he has gained over Romney since the Democratic convention.
The latest national survey released on Tuesday morning by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute gives Obama a four percentage-point lead nationwide (49 to 45 percent). That margin is roughly in line with nine other new polls released on Monday or Tuesday, most of which showed Obama leading by narrow, single-digit margins.
The HuffPost Pollster tracking model, which draws on all national and state-level polling and corrects for consistent "house effect" differences among pollsters, shows Obama leading in the national popular vote by a slightly larger margin (48.9 to 44.3 percent as of this writing).
But beyond the horse race numbers, the latest round of polls confirms a series of perceptions that explain both Obama's potential vulnerability and the source of his continuing advantage over Romney.
Voters remain as dour about the economy as ever. Four out of five voters (81 percent) on the Quinnipiac poll and the recent Washington Post/ABC News survey rate the condition of the national economy as not so good or poor.
Most also remain pessimistic about the future. On the Post/ABC poll, three out of four voters (78 percent) say they are worried about the direction of the nation's economy, and 61 percent are worried about their own family's financial situation. On the Quinnipiac poll, only 39 percent think the economy is getting better, a number much higher among Democrats (75 percent) than Republicans (7 percent).
If the election were a referendum on the need to improve the economy, the result would be a landslide, but despite this pervasive economic discontent, Romney has attained no perceived advantage on this issue. Here the Quinnipiac and Post/ABC surveys, as well new polls from CNN/ORC International and Politico/GWU/Battleground, all show voters splitting about evenly on whether Obama or Romney would do better handling the economy.
How has Obama fought to a perceived draw on economic issues? In part, many voters continue to assign more blame to his predecessor. On the Quinnipiac poll, just 42 percent say they blame Obama more for the state of the economy, while 50 percent blame former President George W. Bush.
Another compontent is that voters are pessimistic about the ability of either candidate to make a real difference. On the Quinnipiac survey, just 28 percent of voters believe that Obama's economic policies will help their personal financial situation, but only 35 percent said the same about Romney.
But the biggest factor is simply that, despite the poor economic performance of the past four years, voters have concluded that Obama better understands their needs and will be more likely to favor all Americans or the middle class, rather than the wealthy.
On the Quinnipiac poll, 60 percent said Obama "cares about people like you," compared to just 46 percent who said the same about Romney.
On the Post/ABC poll, two thirds (66 percent) said Obama does more to favor the middle class, while just 17 percent said he favors the wealthy. For Romney the results were reversed. A majority (57 percent) said his policies would favor the wealthy, only 35 percent said his policies would favor the middle class.
Finally, the Post/ABC poll finds that Obama holds a 13-point advantage over Romney (52 to 39 percent) on the question of which candidate "better understands the economic problems people in this country are having." That gap has persisted on their surveys throughout 2012.
This week features both the first of three nationally televised debates between the candidates on Wednesday night and also the new monthly Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs report on Friday. The combination of those events could help Romney narrow Obama's lead simply by refocusing the campaign on the economy, since Romney runs about even with the president on how he would handle the economy.
Convincing voters that he cares about their concerns more than the very wealthy, however, remains a much heavier lift for Romney, and without such a change, Obama's overall advantage is likely to persist.