A USA Today/Gallup poll of 12 swing states doesn’t tell us much we didn’t already know about the presidential race. It’s very tight, with President Obama holding a slim 47-45 percentage point lead over Mitt Romney in the 12 states (Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin) that are likely to decide the election. However, the significant figure Democrats will be crowing about is not that two-point edge that is well within the poll’s four-point margin of error. Rather, it is the fact that eight percent of those polled say the political ads they have seen in recent months have influenced their opinions. As the pollsters rightly assume, it isn’t likely that a brief television commercial will change anyone’s opinion of the president — about whom most voters have entrenched views be they positive or negative — but that means the deluge of negative Democratic ads about Mitt Romney have changed some minds about the Republican nominee.
That’s good news for Democrats who understand that sliming the challenger is the only way for a president who can’t run on his record to gain re-election. The bad news is that if the smears directed at Romney’s business record have only managed to keep Obama relatively even with his opponent, it’s a sign he’s in trouble. Contrary to the Pollyannas of political punditry who say such attacks hurt the candidate who throws the mud, going negative is actually quite effective. But while the Democrats can help themselves by seeking to solidify the image of Romney as an out-of-touch rich guy in the minds of the public, the president’s efforts to shift the blame for the poor economy on his predecessors are not working as well. That means the president’s campaign has locked itself into a box in which the only way to go is to continue escalating their attacks on Romney. That’s worrisome for Romney but also doesn’t give Democrats much room for winning over independents who are more concerned about the parlous state of the economy than about Romney’s wealth.