Research has shown that most voters lack a defined belief system and have limited political knowledge. As a result individuals often rely on other cues – or, heuristics – to help guide them in their decision-making.

In the absence of strong policy knowledge (e.g. with a new candidate), likability (e.g. a candidate’s youth, his family, his casual style) may play a big role. And these seemingly more superficial cues can, at times, effectively persuade voters.

But with President Obama this is not the case. The public knows the president and is aware that his massive spending agenda has been hugely unsuccessful. Even if voters can’t explain specific policies – or identify what they would prefer – they know the status quo is not working.

With unemployment at 9.1 percent, it’s not surprising that three-quarters of voters feel the country is headed in the wrong direction. But the new narrative that likeability could trump political weakness in 2012 suggests a very limited understanding of public opinion.