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No One Thinks The Next President Will Make Their Life Better

Support for both Obama and Romney goes up and down, but a new survey finds that neither one is inspiring much hope for making our lives or our society better.

A guess about the presidential debate tonight: Barring a gaffe, in which one candidate says what they actually believe, neither Romney nor Obama will say anything of true substance; they will not go beyond platitudes about their platforms and generalizations about their plans. Clearly, the debates have a lot of potential to shift the tenor of the race, but that is mostly cosmetic. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson says that the election represents a choice between Coke and Pepsi—two essentially identical choices. And polling data supports him: voters don’t think either candidate offers any sort of meaningful change to their lives.

That’s the finding from a survey completed by Havas Media (home of Co.Exist contributor Umair Haque) after the last debate; they’ll do another round after tonight. Respondents answered questions about the candidates’ ability to help society as a whole and them as an individual. The results don’t speak well to how either candidate is connecting with voters, and show how little faith voters have in politicians’ abilities to improve society.

The survey asked respondents to decide on questions of empathy, like whether or not one thinks each candidate "listens to and cares about citizens" (Obama over Romney, 45% to 20%) or "supports the development of local businesses" (Romney over Obama, 32% to 29%). These results are not surprising: Throughout the campaign, Romney has lagged behind in traditional polls of how he relates to the problems of regular people.

What’s more interesting is when the poll asks respondents how they think the candidates might be able to improve specific areas of their lives. On questions about whether the candidates will "help make my life easier," "help me live a better or fuller life," or "help me be a more responsible citizen" both candidates’ numbers are atrocious—with no more than 32% of respondents agreeing with any question about either candidate. Obama tops out at 31% on the question of "will treat me with respect." Romney hits his maximum (19.6%) on helping people "feel safe from harm" (Obama beats him here, with 26%; on no question in this section does Romney outpace Obama). While Obama might win out, it’s with anemic numbers. Even his supporters aren’t too confident he can do much to improve their lives. We’ve selected candidates, it seems, who don’t thrill us.

What’s the lesson here? Havas connects these numbers to its Meaningful Brand Index, a look at which companies people feel are making their lives better. They argue that this is the key business innovation of the future. Any brand can sell you something, only a few can make you feel that interacting with them improves your quality of life. Ideally, we’d want the same in the person running the country—someone who both helps and inspires us to be better citizens. But it seems like we have a long way to go before we find that person. Or perhaps, even more cynically, it may be that our political process simply can’t give us the candidates we actually need.

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  • Ryan Morse

    Good thing there is more than TWO choices... ;) - Gary Johnson 2012! - "Live Free"

  • Jon

    Sadly, I think this election isnt going to come down to who won, but who lost the least...

  • Diana Nelson

    Sorry, it's not the job of the president to make my life better - that's my responsibility. And it's not the president's job to make me a better citizen. My parents should have raised me to be a good citizen and it's my responsibility to follow through. Good leaders can inspire people to do better, but make my life better or easier? Nope. 

  • Trinity Alps

    I won't be watching this one either. I mean really... what more information could they possibly instill upon us? I's been two years of micro dissection. If you haven't figured it out yet, you probably shouldn't be allowed to vote. ;)

  • Bob Ligget

    This is patently absurd. As an organizational development consultant I have found no one who favors Obama in the ways your survey suggests. Quite the opposite, in fact. Perhaps you're reflecting the Fast Company demos, but that's a small subset of America. 

  • Fabian Splice

    ...and you've been researching this have you, Bob? This has been your job over the last few weeks and months...I mean that's what you're claiming. 

    So why not publish your findings? I think it would make for interesting reading. 

  • Ariel Schwartz

    Fast Company didn't do the survey. Havas Media conducted it--378 adults across the political spectrum.

  • Walt Goshert

    "Ideally, we’d want the same in the person running the country--someone who both helps and inspires us to be better citizens."
    I'd settle for someone who simply upholds his/her Oath of office and follows the Constitution. 

  • TheBiggerHammer

    It’s a tired Washington dinner-speech quip: the last speaker of the night says, “Everything’s been said, but not everyone has said it.” We seem to have reached that point in the presidential campaign. The candidates long ago laid out their positions (with as much specificity as they will give until the election), the commentators seem to have made every observation possible, and the race has settled into a close and stable state. This morning’s Washington Post carried no campaign news on the front page.
    It’s certainly possible there are more twists to come – unknown unknowns. But it’s hard to see anything that's likely to occur shaking the race off of its current path. There are two debates left, but Romney can no longer surprise anyone with a good performance, and the President is unlikely to land a knock-out punch, given his opponent’s apparent skill in that medium. One of them could make a “gaffe,” but those almost always mean less than the immediate reporting suggests, and both candidates will be extra careful with their words in the last few weeks. No one who doesn't already feel good about the President is likely to decide that they really like his policies after all, or suddenly be charmed by Governor Romney.
    TV commercials, the most visible part of the race for swing-state voters, are not likely to change many minds. The post Citizens United volume of ads has already caused most people to tune them out. Even an attentive viewer won’t see any themes, emotional ploys, facts or claims that they haven’t seen hundreds of times before in the last few months. Each side is running ads for the same reason the British and Germans filled the trenches in World War I, to avoid giving up territory already gained. They may have some very marginal impact on swing voters, pushing them to a final decision, but mostly they are playing to a stalemate (and pushing committed voters to the polls).
    So, what will decide this close election? I actually think it's already decided (if you're interested, my  explanation is at