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When competence meets callousness

<p>The top lines of the new CNN poll are a little unexpected.</p>
When competence meets callousness
When competence meets callousness

The top lines of the new CNN poll are a little unexpected. Though the results obviously don't reflect today's jobs report, if Americans are seeing the economic troubles in their own lives and communities, they're not taking it out on President Obama -- his approval rating is up to 52% and he leads Mitt Romney among voters by three points.

What's more, there's an enthusiasm gap, with Obama voters more strongly behind him than Romney's supporters.

But I made a chart to help highlight the responses that were arguably the most important.

CNN asked respondents, "Who do you think better understands how the economy works -- Barack Obama or Mitt Romney?" On this, the two were exactly tied at 45% each.

But then the poll asked, "Who do you think better understands the problems faced by ordinary Americans -- Barack Obama or Mitt Romney?" On this, the president enjoys a 19-point edge, 55% to 34%.

At least for now, results like these suggest the public believes Romney is competent (he understands how the economy works), but also callous (he's looking out for the rich). It would also suggest all the talk about Romney's controversial private-sector background and his vast personal wealth has had at least some effect, since so many don't see him as someone championing the needs of average folks.

If the economy deteriorates much further, it may not matter, but this is a dynamic worth watching. If voters see Romney has a proficient, trustworthy voice on the economy, he's already cleared a critically important hurdle. But if the American mainstream also perceives him as someone who only cares about the country club crowd with elevators for their cars -- his competence would only serve to benefit the out-of-touch elite who own multiple mansions and like being able to fire people -- it's likely to undermine Romney's support.