POLITICS

Is Obama's public love affair with beer improving his numbers among male voters?

09/12/2012 02:00 EDT | Updated 11/12/2012 05:12 EST
WASHINGTON - Is Barack Obama's sudden fondness for chugging beer beginning to pay off?

A spate of new polls released this week suggests the president is gaining popularity among male voters, closing the gap on Mitt Romney's longtime advantage with white, working-class men.

Three of the surveys even have Obama inching past his Republican rival for the White House among male voters — a trend that could spell doom for Romney if it continues, since most public opinion polls suggest Obama still has an edge with female voters.

Obama, a Harvard-educated civil rights lawyer long suspected of enjoying a barrel-aged chardonnay far more than a glass of stout, has been doing his part to downplay his elitist, intellectual image in order to appeal to working-class men while he's campaigning for re-election.

In August, he bought a round of Bud Lights for supporters at the Iowa State Fair, swiftly transforming the usual chants of "Four More Years!" into a chorus of "Four More Beers!"

He makes frequent mention of the White House micro-brewery he's started. The White House recently made public Obama's honey ale and honey lager recipes, complete with a video of the commander-in-chief in shirt-sleeves, helping with the brewing process.

He's also made a point of stopping at pubs and ale houses while on the campaign trail, ordering up icy mugs of beer as the cameras snap him mid-quaff. And it's not just on barstools where he's connecting with working-class men: the president cheerfully allowed a burly Florida pizza parlour owner to lift him off the ground over the weekend.

"Look at these guns!" Obama said as ensuing news photographs of the skinny president being hoisted like a twig by a musclehead with Popeye arms went viral.

Scott Van Duzer, a registered Republican, gushed like a teenaged fangirl about Obama after his exuberant presidential bear hug.

"I got goosebumps, so excited and just overwhelmed … just overwhelmed when I saw him, blown away," he said.

The well-heeled Romney, too, has been battling perceptions he's an out-of-touch elitist as he attempts to maintain his popularity among working-class men.

He passed out hot dogs, autographed T-shirts and posed for pictures with hundreds of supporters at a NASCAR event over the weekend in Virginia. Yet Romney's mingling with the common man doesn't quite have the same cachet in beer-loving America as Obama's does.

As Martin Amis, the British novelist who reported from the Republican convention for Newsweek magazine, recently put it: "Is Mitt the kind of guy you'd like to have a glass of water with?"

Due to his Mormon faith, Romney doesn't drink — and some conservative observers see something sinister in Obama's newfound fondness for publicly downing brewskies.

"Could there be something more insidious and disgraceful going on?" asked Ed Lasky on the conservative American Thinker blog.

"Does he want to point out that Mitt Romney does not drink beer and therefore 'isn't one of the guys?' .... Is this part of a plan to cleverly paint Romney just not into a corner but paint him as the 'other?'"

One observer doubts it's anything quite so cynical.

"It's obviously contrived, but I don't think it has any religious connotations," said Jack Pitney, a politics professor at Claremont McKenna College in California and an academic authority on the Republican Party.

"I think the president would be doing the same thing even if he was running against an Irishman, and I can say that, because I'm Irish."

While none of this week's polls have explicitly asked voters with which candidate they'd rather have a beer, the ABC News/Washington Post survey — showing the president with a three-point edge over Romney among men — came close to posing that question.

When registered voters were asked who'd they rather have nurse them back to health, Obama claimed a 13-point lead over Romney, at 49 per cent to 36 per cent.

By an almost equal margin, the poll's respondents also said Obama would make a more loyal friend than Romney. And 52 per cent said they'd rather have Obama come over for dinner compared to just 33 per cent who opted for Romney.

"Obama's support has reached a new high among men," said a statement by Langer Research Associates, the company that conducted the poll.

Romney campaign aides, however, say Obama is simply enjoying a temporary, post-convention boost that will fade soon. Republican strategists, however, are quietly fretful, noting that Romney has to have a double-digit lead over Obama among working-class men in order to win on Nov. 6.

Pitney suggests those on both Team Romney and Team Obama should take a deep breath, adding there's no need for Romney to suddenly forgo his faith and start crashing college keggers and sucking back suds on the campaign trail.

"If there is any real change, it isn't coming out of a glass of beer," he said with a laugh.

"Some of it may be the temporary effect of the convention, and some may be Democrats returning to their partisan roots. We'll have a clearer, more realistic picture of what's going on once the effect of the conventions settles down a bit."