Commentary Magazine


Topic: opinion polls

Liberal Overconfidence Helps Romney

The 2012 election is once again proving that having most of the mainstream media in your pocket is a huge advantage for a presidential candidate. President Obama’s re-election effort has been materially aided by being largely able to set the narrative of the race as the year unfolded. Mitt Romney’s gaffes were treated as game-changers, while Obama’s misstatements and scandals, like the security leaks from the White House, were often treated like footnotes rather than major stories. Media spin helped turn his convention into a hit and the Libya disaster, combined with Romney’s “47 percent” gaffe, has seemed to produce a genuine surge for the president in the last weeks. Conservatives may dispute the accuracy of polls that may be based on samples skewed to the Democrats or based on expectations of a repeat of the “hope and change” turnout figures of 2008. But after months of the race being seen as a dead heat, there’s little doubt that Obama is ahead right now. However, the glee on the left contains within it the possibility of a reversal.

The media narrative of the election having been largely decided in the last month is so strong that, as I wrote earlier this week, prominent outlets are openly expressing shock that the GOP hasn’t already conceded the election. Some are speaking as if Romney must not just win the first debate next week but mop the floor with the president if he is to have a chance in November. But the problem with this triumphalism on the left is that it can breed a fatal overconfidence. As encouraging as the president’s current poll numbers may be, his margins are still too small and there is still too much time left before Election Day for the left to assume the thing is in the bag. Even more to the point, it can breed a backlash against the media that can energize Romney’s camp and help fuel a competing comeback narrative. The president may not only have peaked too soon, but the overkill on the part of his journalistic cheerleading squad could be just the shot in the arm Romney needed.

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The 2012 election is once again proving that having most of the mainstream media in your pocket is a huge advantage for a presidential candidate. President Obama’s re-election effort has been materially aided by being largely able to set the narrative of the race as the year unfolded. Mitt Romney’s gaffes were treated as game-changers, while Obama’s misstatements and scandals, like the security leaks from the White House, were often treated like footnotes rather than major stories. Media spin helped turn his convention into a hit and the Libya disaster, combined with Romney’s “47 percent” gaffe, has seemed to produce a genuine surge for the president in the last weeks. Conservatives may dispute the accuracy of polls that may be based on samples skewed to the Democrats or based on expectations of a repeat of the “hope and change” turnout figures of 2008. But after months of the race being seen as a dead heat, there’s little doubt that Obama is ahead right now. However, the glee on the left contains within it the possibility of a reversal.

The media narrative of the election having been largely decided in the last month is so strong that, as I wrote earlier this week, prominent outlets are openly expressing shock that the GOP hasn’t already conceded the election. Some are speaking as if Romney must not just win the first debate next week but mop the floor with the president if he is to have a chance in November. But the problem with this triumphalism on the left is that it can breed a fatal overconfidence. As encouraging as the president’s current poll numbers may be, his margins are still too small and there is still too much time left before Election Day for the left to assume the thing is in the bag. Even more to the point, it can breed a backlash against the media that can energize Romney’s camp and help fuel a competing comeback narrative. The president may not only have peaked too soon, but the overkill on the part of his journalistic cheerleading squad could be just the shot in the arm Romney needed.

It should be conceded that with 40 days to go, it is a lot better to be ahead — no matter how large or small the margin — than behind. The president’s good month has encouraged Democrat donors and depressed those of the Republicans. Such a state of affairs could, if the GOP misplays its hand in the coming weeks, theoretically snowball into a repeat of the party’s 2008 debacle.

But the notion that Romney is already so far behind that he will never be able to catch up is risible. For all of his missteps, he remains within striking distance of the president. The economy is still poor and the idea that the patent collapse of his foreign policy vision as our embassies are attacked in the Middle East will help rather than hurt him among voters is highly debatable.

Moreover, Americans hate being told that an election is over when they know it is still close. That gives Romney a clear opening to spend the remaining weeks running hard against the media as well as the president. Nobody may like a heartless plutocrat — the false image that the left has foisted on Romney — but everyone likes an underdog who is being undercut by a chattering class telling voters that all has been decided even before they vote. If Romney can tap into this sentiment, dissatisfaction with the president’s performance in office can still be the decisive factor in determining the outcome.

Liberals have spent the last several weeks telling themselves that they can’t lose. But this sort of talk can breed resentment. It remains to be seen whether Romney is able to take advantage of this opening but if he does, Democrats will regret the way their media amen corner attempted to declare the game over when there was still so much time left on the clock.

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Romney Shouldn’t Lose Expectations Game

Almost all of the opinion polls taken in the week following the Democratic National Convention have all pointed in the same direction: Barack Obama has a small, yet significant lead in his battle for re-election. These polls have depressed many Republicans and nothing the Mitt Romney campaign has been able to do in the past few days has relieved the sense of gloom in certain precincts of the right or diminished the glee being expressed in much of the mainstream liberal media.

At the root of this conservative depression is a sense that this is an election they couldn’t lose and they have reacted to the strength being shown by the Democrats with shock, disbelief and by tossing blame at the Romney campaign. These unrealistic expectations have endowed the president’s lead with a greater importance than it might otherwise have since even the most optimistic evaluations of his chances for re-election still put the race within pollsters’ margin of error. Yet rather than wasting time carping at Romney’s Boston headquarters or the candidate’s supposed missteps, the GOP needs to realize that all along they’ve been looking at this race through the wrong end of the binoculars. Instead of being shocked by the results, they ought to be somewhat encouraged or at least not be dejected by the numbers. Contrary to the right’s skewed view of the election, the president has huge advantages that, despite his failures, always gave him a leg up. The wonder is not that Romney isn’t ahead by 10 points, but that even liberal pollsters show him virtually even with Obama.

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Almost all of the opinion polls taken in the week following the Democratic National Convention have all pointed in the same direction: Barack Obama has a small, yet significant lead in his battle for re-election. These polls have depressed many Republicans and nothing the Mitt Romney campaign has been able to do in the past few days has relieved the sense of gloom in certain precincts of the right or diminished the glee being expressed in much of the mainstream liberal media.

At the root of this conservative depression is a sense that this is an election they couldn’t lose and they have reacted to the strength being shown by the Democrats with shock, disbelief and by tossing blame at the Romney campaign. These unrealistic expectations have endowed the president’s lead with a greater importance than it might otherwise have since even the most optimistic evaluations of his chances for re-election still put the race within pollsters’ margin of error. Yet rather than wasting time carping at Romney’s Boston headquarters or the candidate’s supposed missteps, the GOP needs to realize that all along they’ve been looking at this race through the wrong end of the binoculars. Instead of being shocked by the results, they ought to be somewhat encouraged or at least not be dejected by the numbers. Contrary to the right’s skewed view of the election, the president has huge advantages that, despite his failures, always gave him a leg up. The wonder is not that Romney isn’t ahead by 10 points, but that even liberal pollsters show him virtually even with Obama.

The strength shown by the Obama campaign and its ability to use its ace in the hole — a sympathetic mainstream liberal press — to help push public opinion in their direction on key questions, such as the blame for the economy, or about the character of the GOP positions on entitlement reform, should not have been a surprise. Nor should it shock anyone that an incumbent president, let alone one whose historic status as the first African-American in the White House renders him invulnerable to personal attacks such as those routinely used against Romney, should be winning.

It is true that the president’s record is generally one of failure at home and abroad. His only domestic achievements, the passage of a nearly trillion-dollar stimulus boondoggle that didn’t help the economy and his signature health care plan, are both unpopular. The recovery from the recession — dubbed the “Great Recession” by his supporters in the media so as to make his task seem even harder than it was — he inherited from his predecessor has been anemic and there is every indication that his policies of spending and debt will trigger another recession should he be re-elected. Abroad, other than the killing of Osama bin Laden, the president has nothing to boast about, having been rebuffed by the foes he sought to ingratiate such as Russia and Iran while alienating allies like Israel.

All that is enough to keep his approval ratings dangerously below 50 percent, but none of it changes the fact that as the first African-American president his mere presence in the White House makes a lot of Americans feel good about their country and themselves. What Republicans don’t understand is that these feelings or the willingness of much of the media to parrot Democratic talking points about Romney’s taxes or misstatements and the Republicans aren’t diminished by bad economic news or even foreign disasters such as attacks on American embassies in the Middle East. Though Obama may be as feckless as Jimmy Carter in many respects, he is an able politician and this was never going to be the rerun of 1980 many in the GOP foolishly expected. Nor was it going to be a repeat of the GOP’s midterm triumph in 2010 when the president’s policies were the issue but his name wasn’t on the ballot.

Rather than seeing the election as being one where their candidate is falling short of expectations, Republicans need to understand that they have misread this race all along. They should be pleased that a standard-bearer given to gaffes should be only a few points behind Obama even in the aftermath of the president’s post-convention bounce. Though Obama has the lead in the polls, he is still dependent on duplicating his party’s historic 2008 turnout rates. But he should not benefit from a false sense that Romney has lost an opportunity to generate a Republican landslide when none was ever possible.

The power of incumbency has always meant that any Republican had a narrow path to victory that depended on perfect execution of a campaign strategy of focusing on the economy while still being able to put forward a credible critique of Obama on foreign affairs. The Romney campaign is well short of perfection and the candidate has not always been perfectly on message either. But even so, he is very much in the fight and with luck and strong performances in the debates, he still has an opportunity to win.

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Ryan’s Bounce May Come in October

Over at his New York Times blog, Nate Silver probes the question of whether the polls that have come out in the last few days indicate any bounce for the Republican ticket in the days since Mitt Romney announced that Paul Ryan will be his vice presidential nominee. Though, as Alana noted earlier, a series of swing state polls brought some good news for the Republicans, he’s right to say there’s nothing in the data to indicate any real surge in their direction. Pollsters and analysts have in recent election cycles become obsessed with the idea that vice presidential picks and conventions must produce some sort of bounce in the polls to be justified. But, as Silver concedes, Republicans were not claiming that picking Ryan would have an immediate impact on the polls.

While Ryan is a well known, and at least as far as the liberal media is concerned, a controversial figure, he doesn’t have the sort of celebrity that would create a quick change in public opinion about the race. What he does have — and what Republicans who cheered the choice are counting on — is the ability to have a long-term impact on the election. The GOP is counting on Ryan’s intellect, charm and powers of persuasion to impress voters as the race wears on this fall, not to mention, the possibility of a mismatch against Vice President Biden in their debate. Indeed, Romney’s choice of a serious and thoughtful man to run with him is looking even smarter if only because the more Biden roams the country committing gaffes and throwing out wild and irresponsible slurs against the Republicans, the better Ryan looks.

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Over at his New York Times blog, Nate Silver probes the question of whether the polls that have come out in the last few days indicate any bounce for the Republican ticket in the days since Mitt Romney announced that Paul Ryan will be his vice presidential nominee. Though, as Alana noted earlier, a series of swing state polls brought some good news for the Republicans, he’s right to say there’s nothing in the data to indicate any real surge in their direction. Pollsters and analysts have in recent election cycles become obsessed with the idea that vice presidential picks and conventions must produce some sort of bounce in the polls to be justified. But, as Silver concedes, Republicans were not claiming that picking Ryan would have an immediate impact on the polls.

While Ryan is a well known, and at least as far as the liberal media is concerned, a controversial figure, he doesn’t have the sort of celebrity that would create a quick change in public opinion about the race. What he does have — and what Republicans who cheered the choice are counting on — is the ability to have a long-term impact on the election. The GOP is counting on Ryan’s intellect, charm and powers of persuasion to impress voters as the race wears on this fall, not to mention, the possibility of a mismatch against Vice President Biden in their debate. Indeed, Romney’s choice of a serious and thoughtful man to run with him is looking even smarter if only because the more Biden roams the country committing gaffes and throwing out wild and irresponsible slurs against the Republicans, the better Ryan looks.

As much as conservatives love Ryan for his ideas and talent for taking on the opposition in a reasonable manner, no veep candidate is going to make that much of a difference in November. But Ryan’s presence on the ticket has altered the race somewhat in that the future of entitlements and government spending is now in the spotlight rather than being pushed to the side by concern over the economy. That is something that scares some Republicans and delights Democrats.

But the notion that Obama can be re-elected by running as the candidate of the status quo, who will, as Vice President Biden stated, oppose any changes in Social Security or Medicare may underestimate the intelligence of the American people. As I wrote after the pick was announced, Ryan’s presence on the ballot will provide a test of whether voters will prefer demagoguery to ideas. We won’t know the answer to that question until October at the earliest.

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