The 2012 presidential campaign has provided endless fodder for social media, water cooler conversation and "Saturday Night Live" spoofs. But, in the end, Americans going to the polls generally pull the lever based on one thing: their gut feelings, says presidential politics expert Larry Butler of Rowan University.
"Moreso than any other elected office, people vote for a president based on personal characteristics. This is the person who is going to be in your living room, so to speak, for the next four years.
"You're choosing the leader of your country, the person you trust more, the person you think will move forward with the direction you think our country should go, the person who represents your values," says Butler, a political scientist who serves as associate dean of Rowan's College of Humanities & Social Sciences. "It's a personal judgment."
In a strong showing in his first debate and by holding his own in the second, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has proven that he can be "presidential," says Butler.
"He's had some weak spots, but he has rounded out the presidential persona," Butler says. "He's looking presidential. He's talking in a way that shows he understands people's problems. He's demonstrating much more of a connection to ordinary people."
Meanwhile, Obama also has improved his standing with the American people, according to Butler.
"The president's approval rating has improved significantly in recent months by virtue of rising consumer confidence and the Obama campaign's effective messaging," Butler says.
The presidential race really is about the following, Butler says: Which side is going to get their base mobilized and win over the small percentage of undecided voters? Do voters think President Barack Obama deserves a second term? And, if not, is Romney a suitable replacement?
With the economy and jobs as the most pressing campaign issues, most of the nation's voters have already made their Election Day decisions, says Butler.
"At this point, both campaigns are already working the margins by targeting narrow portions of the electorate," he says.
It will be interesting to see how Romney fares in Monday evening's final debate, which focuses on foreign policy, Butler adds.
"If you had to pick the strongest area for Obama, it is foreign policy," says Butler. Romney is less comfortable with foreign policy, but has made some gains in that area in the past few weeks, particularly with his recent speech at Virginia Military Institute, according to Butler.
"The foundation for his foreign policy platform is there," says Butler. "The question is whether he can talk about it comfortably."
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