Americans Think Mitt Romney Would Favor Rich as President

Americans think the GOP favors the rich, and it could be bad news for Mitt Romney

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Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and his wife Ann, leave Brewster Academy after finishing convention preparations for the day on Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012 in Wolfeboro, N.H.

The rich are smart and willing to work hard, but they're also not the most ethical people, and the Republican Party wants to help them out.

At least, that's the American public's view of the rich, according to new polling data from the Pew Research Center. And those attitudes could have a profound impact on a presidential election where one of the candidates is known for his vast wealth. 

The data show that 71 percent of Americans think Romney's policies would help the wealthy, while 31 percent think they would help the poor. The numbers for President Barack Obama are opposite; 60 percent believe he would help poor people, and 37 percent say the rich.

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In addition, a majority of Americans--63 percent--believe the Republican Party favors the rich, while just 23 percent say the middle class and 3 percent say the poor. Meanwhile, 35 percent of Americans believe that Democrats favor the middle class, and 32 percent believe that Democrats favor the poor. Only 20 percent believe that Democrats favor the rich.

This kind of divide gives an opening to President Obama, says David Rohde, a professor of political science at Duke University.

"I think the Democrats are pressing on this because they want to encourage the view in voters that Romney is not like them, with the inference to be drawn that if Romney is not like them, then he cannot appreciate their problems and is less likely to support solutions that favor them," he says.

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The Obama campaign has been taking advantage of this divide, highlighting in political ads the trappings of Romney's wealth, like a Swiss bank account and money in other offshore tax havens.

The poll also finds that Americans believe that the rich are different, in both positive and negative ways. More than half of Americans--55 percent--view the rich as more likely than the average person to be greedy, and 34 percent say the rich are less likely to be honest, compared to only 12 percent who say "more likely."  However, 43 percent think the rich are more likely than the average person to be intelligent, compared to 8 percent who say "less likely." And 42 percent think the rich are more likely to be hardworking. Only around half as many say "less likely." 

That means that Romney's wealth, while not relatable to many Americans, may work in his favor. "We think people are intelligent and hardworking, and those are the qualities in a person you want as president," says Jan Leighley, a professor in the department of government at American University. 

Being able to convince voters that he understands their economic problems and has a clear way of trying to fix them, she says, could be a big part of overcoming Romney's wealthy image, she says.

While "class warfare" has become political buzz phrase in post-recession politics, Rohde doesn't believe that the problem is getting worse. [Read about the 10 cities with the smallest pay gap.]

"It actually might be getting somewhat less divided because of the shifts in the support coalition for the parties." He points to Republican gains among blue-collar whites. 

"Those people aren't rich, so I don't know that that group would reinforce the more positive view of the rich in the Republican Party."

Danielle Kurtzleben is a business and economics reporter for U.S. News & World Report. Connect with her on Twitter at @titonka or via E-mail at