Commentary Magazine


Topic: polls

National Journal Poll: Obama, Romney Tied Heading into Debate

The last National Journal poll two weeks ago showed Obama leading by seven points, so this dead-heat seems to mark a significant shift:

Obama and Romney each pulled in 47 percent support in the poll among likely voters. It is among the narrowest margins of several presidential surveys published ahead of the debate this week. Other polls have shown the president with a slim lead. In this survey, while the race is tied among likely voters, Obama has a 5-point lead, 49 percent to 44 percent, among registered voters.

The survey was conducted Sept. 27-30 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

Romney led in the poll among independents, 49 percent to 41 percent, with both candidates winning more than 90 percent support from their respective parties. The survey had Obama winning 81 percent of the nonwhite vote and Romney carrying 55 percent of white voters.

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The last National Journal poll two weeks ago showed Obama leading by seven points, so this dead-heat seems to mark a significant shift:

Obama and Romney each pulled in 47 percent support in the poll among likely voters. It is among the narrowest margins of several presidential surveys published ahead of the debate this week. Other polls have shown the president with a slim lead. In this survey, while the race is tied among likely voters, Obama has a 5-point lead, 49 percent to 44 percent, among registered voters.

The survey was conducted Sept. 27-30 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

Romney led in the poll among independents, 49 percent to 41 percent, with both candidates winning more than 90 percent support from their respective parties. The survey had Obama winning 81 percent of the nonwhite vote and Romney carrying 55 percent of white voters.

Is a trend in the works? It may be too early to say, but the WSJ/NBC News poll also shows slightly improved numbers for Romney (he’s down three points, as opposed to five points mid-September), and Gallup has encouraging news for the Romney campaign’s economic message in its latest poll:

Romney also fares better than Obama when Americans are asked to say whether the economy will be better or worse in four years if each is elected. Overall, 50% say the economy will be better if Romney is elected and 35% worse, for a net score of +15. Obama’s net score on the same question is +8, with 48% predicting the economy would be better in four years if he is re-elected and 40% saying it will be worse.

Romney also fares better than Obama when Americans are asked to say whether the economy will be better or worse in four years if each is elected. Overall, 50% say the economy will be better if Romney is elected and 35% worse, for a net score of +15. Obama’s net score on the same question is +8, with 48% predicting the economy would be better in four years if he is re-elected and 40% saying it will be worse.

Despite snap-predictions from so-called expert pundits, this race certainly didn’t end in September. Obama’s post-convention bounce is flattening out, and his alarming response to the terrorist attack in Libya appears to be eroding his lead on foreign policy. The WSJ/NBC News poll shows Obama leading Romney by six points on that issue (46 percent to 40 percent), as opposed to the 15-point advantage he had in July (47 percent to 32 percent).

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Are Democratic Voters Surging?

The blizzard of polls that emerged yesterday afternoon had morphed into an Obama avalanche by the time dinnertime rolled around. Surveys at the national and state level disagreed with the results of the two daily tracking polls, Gallup and Rasmussen, which show a tied race around 47 percent. Every other survey, with the exception of one in New Hampshire, showed Barack Obama ahead, and in most cases ahead outside the margin of error. That includes polls of the swing states Mitt Romney has to win if he is to prevail in November.

I said yesterday afternoon that the polls suggested Obama was ahead, but by a little, not a lot. How does that conclusion stand after the data onslaught?

Look, when every poll but two points in the same direction, it would be madness to say signs point to the opposite. Clearly, Obama is leading, and maybe by more than a little. More damaging for Romney’s prospects is the fact that the lead is either stable or strengthening in those battleground states.

Or is it?

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The blizzard of polls that emerged yesterday afternoon had morphed into an Obama avalanche by the time dinnertime rolled around. Surveys at the national and state level disagreed with the results of the two daily tracking polls, Gallup and Rasmussen, which show a tied race around 47 percent. Every other survey, with the exception of one in New Hampshire, showed Barack Obama ahead, and in most cases ahead outside the margin of error. That includes polls of the swing states Mitt Romney has to win if he is to prevail in November.

I said yesterday afternoon that the polls suggested Obama was ahead, but by a little, not a lot. How does that conclusion stand after the data onslaught?

Look, when every poll but two points in the same direction, it would be madness to say signs point to the opposite. Clearly, Obama is leading, and maybe by more than a little. More damaging for Romney’s prospects is the fact that the lead is either stable or strengthening in those battleground states.

Or is it?

The only reason to think it isn’t strengthening goes to one common feature these Obama-friendly polls share—a surge in the number of Democrats ready or likely to vote over the past month. Take Wisconsin, where two polls gave Obama great comfort. The Quinnipiac survey showed Obama gaining 4 percentage points over its survey last month. But that gain was the direct result of the fact that the number of Democrats polled was also up by 4 percentage points.

Even more telling was the Marquette University poll in Wisconsin, which showed Obama up a staggering 11 points since its last take—as a result of including 10 percent more Democrats in the survey.

Quinnipiac’s survey of Virginia featured a Democratic advantage of 11 points—a vast increase in the number of Democrats surveyed in previous tallies.

Some political observers would ask: What’s the issue? Democrats have outnumbered Republicans in every presidential year but one (2004) from time immemorial. That advantage has typically been around 4 percent. But exit polls in 2008 showed a Democratic advantage of a staggering 8 points. So why aren’t these 2012 poll results simply to be accepted?

Simple. We have solid, data-driven reasons to think 2008 was an unprecedented moment that will not be replicated this year. Put Bush fatigue, the Wall Street meltdown, the Obama novelty phenomenon, and a terrible GOP candidate in a blender and you get the 2008 Obama froth.

What would cause such a surge this year? Two thirds of the country says we’re on the wrong track.

That’s a wipeout-for-Obama number, not a number suggesting that Obama will match or better his result in 2008.

And bettering his result is what many of these surveys anticipate. In ’08, Democratic voters outnumbered Republicans by 6 percent—not 11, as the Marquette poll would have it in its present survey. Or 9, as Pew would have it.

But why would his result even remain close to the same? Just two years ago, there was a GOP surge leading to a 63 seat gain in the House of Representatives. Nationwide, the vote percentages from 2008 flipped. In ’08. Obama won 53-46; the GOP nationally won 53 percent of the vote in ’10. The 8-point Democratic advantage of ’08 declined into an even split—from 39D-32R to 35-35.

How could Obama get back to 2008 levels only two years later when conditions are not much improved, if at all, for him or the country?

The obvious riposte is that the presidential-year electorate is much larger and more varied than a midterm electorate. In 2010, 90 million people voted. In 2012, we can expect somewhere between 130-140 million. That’s a big difference, but it’s not a colossal difference.

Let’s assume every one of those 90 million people votes this year—a proper assumption, as midterm voters are extremely engaged politically. That would constitute something like 60 percent of the 2012 electorate. Imagine that they all were to vote the same partisan way in 2012. This would be like saying it’s election night and Bret Baier is already intoning, “With 60 percent of the vote counted, Mitt Romney leads Barack Obama by seven points.”

If that were to happen, it would be time to call the election for Romney. Almost certainly, it won’t. All the evidence suggests a measurable number of people who voted GOP in 2010 will vote for Obama in 2012. None of them, pretty much, will be Republicans, more than nine of ten of whom will vote for Romney. Nine of ten Democrats will vote for Obama.

So everyone who switches will be an independent. Independent voters swung harder and faster in 2010 than at any time in the nation’s history—from supporting Obama by 18 percent to supporting Republican candidates by 8 percent, a shift of an astonishing 25 percent. Obviously, people that fickle will bounce around some. But are they really going to swing back in numbers sufficient to hand Obama the kind of victory the polls are presaging? For what reason?

And talk about independents in this way doesn’t explain why it would be that Democrats would suddenly awaken from a three-year slumber and begin to feel like it was 2008 all over again. It could be happening. But shouldn’t something other than a good speech by Bill Clinton be responsible for such a thing? Romney’s inability to score any higher than 47 percent in any poll is certainly a sign he’s not making the sale—but whatever his weaknesses, it seems unlikely he’s the cause of a mad rush to ensure he doesn’t get the White House.

These are the reasons to be reasonably skeptical—not dismissive, not conspiratorial about motive, but reasonably skeptical—about the margins by which these polls are bolstering and boosting Obama. They appear to anticipate an electorate on November 6 that is more Democratic and Obama-friendly than is likely to be the case.

The Romney people should not be skeptical, though. They ought to believe it. They ought to think they’re behind, because they are; and they ought to think they’re farther behind than they are, because that is the only way they will experience the urgency they need to show to change the trajectory of this race.

Perhaps they, like their excessively calm candidate, haven’t quite reckoned with the degree of public humiliation and outright scorn that will be hurled in their faces and the damage that will be done to their professional reputations if Romney loses a race he should have won.

They, like Romney, have every reason to fear such a result and to act dramatically to prevent it. And they have an obligation to the 60-million-plus people who will vote for them, and who believe the country’s future is at stake, not to let this all dribble away.

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The State of the Race

A flurry of surveys with wildly contradictory results at the national and state levels has caused the New York Times‘s polling guru, Nate Silver, to throw up his hands. This afternoon, he tweeted: “The. Polls. Have. Stopped. Making. Any. Sense.” This may understate the case. For ten years now, pollsters have acknowledged their jobs are becoming more and more difficult, what with the multiplicity of phones people use, the time they spend on the Internet, and the fact that more and more people screen their calls. The poll madness today suggests that the difficulty may be blossoming into a full-bore crisis—even as the media hang on every number because we need something, anything, that seems like an empirical data point to evaluate the state of the race.

So trying to figure out where the presidential race might be at present is total guesswork, based on data that don’t correlate and are being gathered according to suspect means. So here’s mine: Obama is ahead and Romney is behind. But not by much, and within the margin of error.

Given the steadiness in the findings of the two daily tracking polls, Gallup and Rasmussen, both of which essentially echo each other with a 47-46 result over the past several days, their agreement would seem to be closer to the truth than longer-term polls showing a far wider margin in Obama’s favor. But the existence of those polls, and the lack of existence of a single poll showing a wider margin for Romney, is suggestive of something.

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A flurry of surveys with wildly contradictory results at the national and state levels has caused the New York Times‘s polling guru, Nate Silver, to throw up his hands. This afternoon, he tweeted: “The. Polls. Have. Stopped. Making. Any. Sense.” This may understate the case. For ten years now, pollsters have acknowledged their jobs are becoming more and more difficult, what with the multiplicity of phones people use, the time they spend on the Internet, and the fact that more and more people screen their calls. The poll madness today suggests that the difficulty may be blossoming into a full-bore crisis—even as the media hang on every number because we need something, anything, that seems like an empirical data point to evaluate the state of the race.

So trying to figure out where the presidential race might be at present is total guesswork, based on data that don’t correlate and are being gathered according to suspect means. So here’s mine: Obama is ahead and Romney is behind. But not by much, and within the margin of error.

Given the steadiness in the findings of the two daily tracking polls, Gallup and Rasmussen, both of which essentially echo each other with a 47-46 result over the past several days, their agreement would seem to be closer to the truth than longer-term polls showing a far wider margin in Obama’s favor. But the existence of those polls, and the lack of existence of a single poll showing a wider margin for Romney, is suggestive of something.

Without a change in the race’s trajectory, there’s little reason to think there will be any change in the dynamic. In other words, Obama would win. By a little, not a lot. And there is no margin of error on election day (unless the chads fail to fall).

Which means Romney needs to act to change the trajectory. One sign of what that might mean comes from the first major poll on foreign policy taken after last week’s horrific events in Cairo and Libya. You’ll recall Romney blasted the administration for a statement out of Cairo that, he said, expressed sympathy for the rioters. This was viewed as a great evil by a great many people, and criticized by people on Romney’s own side as well. Romney’s team appeared battered and bruised by the attacks. And yet in the NBC News poll released yesterday, the president saw a significant drop of 5 percentage points on a question about his handling of foreign policy. This is not to say Romney caused Obama’s drop, but it might mean he was closer to the national wavelength than the incestuous Washington-NY media thought.

Obviously the question over the next few days is whether Romney will suffer from the “47 percent” remarks on the hidden videotape. I explain here why I think what Romney said was wrong and wrong-headed. That kind of trajectory change would, obviously, make Romney’s challenge more significant.

The strange thing about the Romney camp is that, with the exception of that statement, it appears to have no sense of urgency about its condition. Romney, it’s said, never gets mad, and has never had a fight with his wife. That’s wonderful for him, but one virtue of getting angry and heated and squabbly and in a fight is that it will at least register a pulse. You can’t win a race if you don’t get your heart rate up.

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Poll Roundup: Presidential Race Tightens

It’s the strangest thing. The media already declared this week that Mitt Romney lost the election, but the polls still seem to show the race tightening. First, from today’s USA Today/Gallup poll, which has Romney trailing Obama by two points in the swing states:

Registered voters in key 2012 election swing states remain closely divided in their presidential vote preferences, with 48% supporting President Barack Obama and 46% Mitt Romney. Other than a nine-point lead for Obama in March, the two candidates have been essentially tied in the swing states throughout the campaign.

Gallup’s daily tracking poll also finds Obama leading Romney by one point nationwide. Note that both of these polls were conducted among registered, not likely voters, which means they are more likely to favor Obama:

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It’s the strangest thing. The media already declared this week that Mitt Romney lost the election, but the polls still seem to show the race tightening. First, from today’s USA Today/Gallup poll, which has Romney trailing Obama by two points in the swing states:

Registered voters in key 2012 election swing states remain closely divided in their presidential vote preferences, with 48% supporting President Barack Obama and 46% Mitt Romney. Other than a nine-point lead for Obama in March, the two candidates have been essentially tied in the swing states throughout the campaign.

Gallup’s daily tracking poll also finds Obama leading Romney by one point nationwide. Note that both of these polls were conducted among registered, not likely voters, which means they are more likely to favor Obama:

Gallup Daily tracking of registered voters nationwide now finds Obama at 47% and Romney at 46%, suggesting a fading of Obama’s post-convention bounce. At this point, it is too early to tell what impact a newly released video of Romney’s unflattering characterization of Obama supporters from an early 2012 fundraising speech might have on the race.

Today’s AP/GfK poll of likely voters has a similar finding. Obama leads Romney by a single point:

Obama is supported by 47 percent of likely voters and Romney by 46 percent, promising an all-out fight to the finish by the two campaigns to gin up enthusiasm among core supporters and dominate get-out-the-vote operations. That’s an area where Obama claimed a strong advantage in 2008 and Republicans reigned four years earlier.

That’s not to say there aren’t signs of trouble for Romney. We still don’t know how the potentially-damaging “47 percent” video will impact the numbers above. He’s down by five points in the NBC/WSJ poll of likely voters, which came out last night but was conducted before the video dropped. He also appears to be losing ground on economic issues, at least according to the AP/GfK poll.

But as the media has been saying for the past couple of months, there aren’t many undecided voters out there to win. The race will largely come down to turnout, and while Romney’s “47 percent” remarks could potentially depress some of his support, the narrative that he’s losing by a landslide (when polls show he’s not) isn’t helpful for Obama either. Much of Obama’s get-out-the-vote efforts rely on frightening his base about the prospect of a Romney presidency. If they falsely believe that Obama has the race locked up, there’s also less incentive to turn out at the polls.

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Is the Obama Convention Bounce Over?

After a week that has made it appear as if the presidential election is slipping away from him, Mitt Romney got a bit of good news this morning when Rasmussen released its latest daily tracking poll showing him with a narrow 47-46 percent lead over President Obama. It’s the first time in a week that Romney has had any kind of a lead and only a couple of days ago had fallen a few points behind in this survey.

Given the avalanche of bad results the Republican has gotten in the past few days, the Rasmussen numbers provide a dose of badly needed relief for Romney. Polls released in the last week have shown President Obama with leads as large as 7 points (Gallup), 6 points (CNN), 5 points (Fox News) and 3 points (Reuters). All reflected a clear post-Democratic convention bounce for the president that was in no way diminished by the dismal jobs report released on Friday. The expectation in some quarters is that this trend will continue as the president reaps the benefit of leading the nation during a time of crisis in the aftermath of the attacks on American embassies in the Middle East. But the Rasmussen survey provides at least one ray of hope for the GOP in that it shows that the post-Convention bubble may have burst. Indeed, it may be the harbinger of results from other sources that may show the race tightening rather than moving even further in Obama’s direction.

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After a week that has made it appear as if the presidential election is slipping away from him, Mitt Romney got a bit of good news this morning when Rasmussen released its latest daily tracking poll showing him with a narrow 47-46 percent lead over President Obama. It’s the first time in a week that Romney has had any kind of a lead and only a couple of days ago had fallen a few points behind in this survey.

Given the avalanche of bad results the Republican has gotten in the past few days, the Rasmussen numbers provide a dose of badly needed relief for Romney. Polls released in the last week have shown President Obama with leads as large as 7 points (Gallup), 6 points (CNN), 5 points (Fox News) and 3 points (Reuters). All reflected a clear post-Democratic convention bounce for the president that was in no way diminished by the dismal jobs report released on Friday. The expectation in some quarters is that this trend will continue as the president reaps the benefit of leading the nation during a time of crisis in the aftermath of the attacks on American embassies in the Middle East. But the Rasmussen survey provides at least one ray of hope for the GOP in that it shows that the post-Convention bubble may have burst. Indeed, it may be the harbinger of results from other sources that may show the race tightening rather than moving even further in Obama’s direction.

Democrats will be quick to point out that Rasmussen’s results have tended to favor the Republican throughout the race and that its focus on likely rather than registered voters may underestimate Democratic turnout in November. We won’t know until then whether Rasmussen’s turnout model is more accurate than other pollsters who are assuming that the president will duplicate his 2008 effort, when an outpouring of minority and young voters propelled him to a decisive victory.

However, Rasmussen’s numbers, which show, as has been the case throughout the year, more enthusiasm on the right than on the left, may indicate that contrary to the prevailing narrative of the last week, the campaign is essentially back to where it was two weeks ago in a virtual stalemate. That is the best indication that the Charlotte bounce is over since it appeared as if Democrats had closed the enthusiasm gap after the convention.

Nevertheless, Republicans should not be surprised if the all out media assault on their candidate in the last 24 hours after his criticism of administration apologies to Islamists will produce another surge for the president. Many in the country may agree with the GOP candidate that the initial apology to rioters that was produced by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt was disgraceful. Others may expect that the bungling of U.S. security in Libya and the administration’s supine posture in Egypt will become problems rather than strengths. But once the chattering classes settle on a theme to the disadvantage of conservatives, whether it is Romney’s foreign trip or the supposed brilliance of speakers at the Democratic convention, it has a way of becoming accepted conventional wisdom.

That said, though the polls have shown in the last week just how decisive an advantage a compliant media can be for the president, the latest results demonstrate that the race remains tight with Romney still very much in the hunt.

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WaPo/ABC Poll Shows Race Still Tied

Whatever bounce President Obama (or Clinton) procured from last week’s convention is fading, according to today’s Washington Post/ABC News poll. Both candidates are virtually tied among likely voters:

The survey shows that the race remains close among likely voters, with Obama at 49 percent and Romney at 48 percent, virtually unchanged from a poll taken just before the conventions.

But among a wider sample of all registered voters, Obama holds an apparent edge, topping Romney at 50 percent to 44 percent, and has clear advantages on important issues in the campaign when compared with his rival.

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Whatever bounce President Obama (or Clinton) procured from last week’s convention is fading, according to today’s Washington Post/ABC News poll. Both candidates are virtually tied among likely voters:

The survey shows that the race remains close among likely voters, with Obama at 49 percent and Romney at 48 percent, virtually unchanged from a poll taken just before the conventions.

But among a wider sample of all registered voters, Obama holds an apparent edge, topping Romney at 50 percent to 44 percent, and has clear advantages on important issues in the campaign when compared with his rival.

Polls of registered voters are usually more favorable to Democrats, but they’re not as meaningful as polls of likely voters. The left will trumpet Obama’s 6-point lead among registered voters, but it’s the 49 percent-to-48 percent split among likelies that really matters. That’s also with a voter sample that heavily favors Democrats, as Ed Morrissey explains:

We’re less than 60 days out.  Registered-voter samples don’t mean much at this stage of the election; it’s likely voters that provide predictive data from surveys.  They mean even less when only 26% in the sample are Republicans.  The likely voter sample improves that by a point to 27%, but still has a D+6 D/R/I at 33/27/36.  The 2010 midterms had a national turnout D/R/I of 35/35/30; the 2008 election was D+7 at 39/32/29.  A GOP turnout of 27% would be among the worst ever in a presidential race, if not a record.  Since enthusiasm measures in other surveys, notably Gallup’s, show an enthusiasm gap favoring Republicans, I’m not inclined to buy this poll’s likely-voter split as a model for this election.

That’s not to say Republicans shouldn’t continue to worry. The fact that Obama got any bounce at all from a lackluster and controversy-plagued convention is a bad sign for Romney, and same goes for the fact that Friday’s disappointing jobs report seems to have had little, if any, effect on Obama’s poll numbers. As Jonathan wrote yesterday, unless the public is willing to hold Obama responsible for the faltering recovery, Romney will have a difficult time winning this argument.

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Can Obama Replicate the “Clinton Bounce”?

President Obama is up by five in today’s Rasmussen and yesterday’s Gallup, in a post-convention bounce that hasn’t been tempered by Friday’s disappointing jobs report. Time for the GOP to panic? Not yet. At the Washington Examiner, Conn Carroll argues that if you take a step back, Romney is still better off in the polls than he was before the Republican convention:

When Mitt Romney selected Paul Ryan as his running mate on August 12th, dubbing themselves America’s Comeback Team, the Real Clear Politics poll average had Obama beating Romney by almost 5 points (47.7 percent to 43 percent). Today, even after Obama’s convention bump, RCP has Obama’s lead narrowed to less than 2 (47.8 percent to 46 percent). Don’t like RCP? Well the more liberal Huffington Post Pollster poll average had Obama up 46.8 to 45.1 when Romney picked Ryan. Today, HuffPo has Obama up by less than 1 point, 46.8 to 46.1.

Don’t let anyone fool you: this is a close election. It will be decided by two events: 1) the first debate between Obama and Romney on October 3rd; and 2) the next jobs report October 5th.

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President Obama is up by five in today’s Rasmussen and yesterday’s Gallup, in a post-convention bounce that hasn’t been tempered by Friday’s disappointing jobs report. Time for the GOP to panic? Not yet. At the Washington Examiner, Conn Carroll argues that if you take a step back, Romney is still better off in the polls than he was before the Republican convention:

When Mitt Romney selected Paul Ryan as his running mate on August 12th, dubbing themselves America’s Comeback Team, the Real Clear Politics poll average had Obama beating Romney by almost 5 points (47.7 percent to 43 percent). Today, even after Obama’s convention bump, RCP has Obama’s lead narrowed to less than 2 (47.8 percent to 46 percent). Don’t like RCP? Well the more liberal Huffington Post Pollster poll average had Obama up 46.8 to 45.1 when Romney picked Ryan. Today, HuffPo has Obama up by less than 1 point, 46.8 to 46.1.

Don’t let anyone fool you: this is a close election. It will be decided by two events: 1) the first debate between Obama and Romney on October 3rd; and 2) the next jobs report October 5th.

Political commentators seem to agree that the most persuasive argument at the convention for Obama’s reelection came from Clinton, and that’s backed up by this morning’s Gallup. While 43 percent of all respondents rated Obama’s speech at “excellent/good,” 56 percent of all respondents said the same of Clinton’s. Among independents, those numbers are clarified further: 35 percent (for Obama) and 52 percent (for Clinton).

In other words, it was Clinton, not Obama, who was able to make the most effective argument for Obama’s reelection — a message that clearly resonated with independents. At WaPo, Jen Rubin writes:

At a time when the blogosphere is wildly overestimating the mild bump in daily tracking polls, it is helpful to remember that whatever nudge Obama might have gotten could very well be the Clinton bump, not his own. Unfortunately for Obama, his name will appear on the November ballot.

The takeaway for Romney is the more they see of the GOP nominee the better, and voters’ continued exposure to Obama is not necessarily a plus for the incumbent president.

Unfortunately for the Obama campaign, Clinton’s primetime speech isn’t something that can be replicated. While Clinton can play a prominent role stumping for Obama on the campaign trail, he’s not going to have another major national platform like he did at the convention. As Carroll notes, the most critical events between now and the election will be the debates and the next jobs report. Both are on Obama’s shoulders, and the public seems far less impressed with his persuasive powers than Clinton’s.

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Democrats’ Crisis of Overconfidence

Most Americans say President Obama will win reelection (58 percent) over Mitt Romney (36 percent), according to the latest Gallup poll. These numbers are basically indistinguishable from the same survey taken in May. While this measurement has been decent at predicting the winner since Clinton vs. Dole, there are some details that should worry Obama more than Romney:

Of course, Americans’ beliefs about who will win are influenced by their preferences. Those who say they would vote for Obama if the election were held today overwhelmingly believe he will win, by an 86% to 9% margin. One reason Obama has the edge in overall predictions about the election is that Romney voters are less positive that their candidate will prevail, with 28% saying Obama will win, compared with 65% who believe Romney will win.

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Most Americans say President Obama will win reelection (58 percent) over Mitt Romney (36 percent), according to the latest Gallup poll. These numbers are basically indistinguishable from the same survey taken in May. While this measurement has been decent at predicting the winner since Clinton vs. Dole, there are some details that should worry Obama more than Romney:

Of course, Americans’ beliefs about who will win are influenced by their preferences. Those who say they would vote for Obama if the election were held today overwhelmingly believe he will win, by an 86% to 9% margin. One reason Obama has the edge in overall predictions about the election is that Romney voters are less positive that their candidate will prevail, with 28% saying Obama will win, compared with 65% who believe Romney will win.

It’s no surprise that partisans are more optimistic about their own candidate’s chances. But the numbers are still wildly lopsided — just 14 percent of Democrats think Romney is going to win. Compare that to 35 percent of Republicans who think Obama has the better shot.

The RealClearPolitics average of national polls shows the race at a dead-heat. While polls of general Americans tend to be more favorable toward Obama than polls of likely or registered voters, this survey still seems overly rosy for Obama under the circumstances.

Obama’s star power has faded since 2008, and Democrats know they’re going to struggle to bring out the same number of supporters to the polling booths. That’s why they’re investing so heavily in get-out-the-vote efforts. But if a whopping 86 percent of Democrats believe Obama has this contest in the bag — despite his mediocre poll numbers and the widespread economic dissatisfaction — then there’s much less of an incentive for them to show up on Election Day.

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Romney’s Strategy Isn’t Working

The line from Romney headquarters last month was “every day we’re not talking about the economy is a day we lose.” This line, which came from the highest reaches of the campaign, was proffered to explain the unwillingness to provide substantive details on a host of policies besides the economy. Well, Romney HQ isn’t talking about the economy these days. It’s talking about the ad that all but accused Romney of murdering a woman with cancer. It’s talking about its vice-presidential pick. It’s talking about whether its ad accusing the president of gutting welfare-to-work laws is accurate. Guess what? It turns out you can’t just talk about the economy when people—and the media—want to talk about something else.

The polls suggesting he’s seven or nine points behind are surely wrong, but given that there is only one national poll that shows him ahead, we have to presume Romney is behind. He should presume he’s behind. And given that there’s no good reason whatever for Obama to be leading, one can only presume that Romney’s strategy in July and now in August is not working.

Which is why the “we only talk about the economy” line, while superficially clever, was and is so foolish—stupid, even. Of course Romney wants to focus on that one issue. It’s the one that hurts Obama the most, and the one on which he seems to score the best. He and his team have an idea about the campaign. They need to win independents to win. Independents are less ideological. So don’t press the ideological buttons. Keep it simple. Keep it plain. Obama has hurt you. I’ll help you. Fine.

But that’s not the only reason they’re doing it this way.

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The line from Romney headquarters last month was “every day we’re not talking about the economy is a day we lose.” This line, which came from the highest reaches of the campaign, was proffered to explain the unwillingness to provide substantive details on a host of policies besides the economy. Well, Romney HQ isn’t talking about the economy these days. It’s talking about the ad that all but accused Romney of murdering a woman with cancer. It’s talking about its vice-presidential pick. It’s talking about whether its ad accusing the president of gutting welfare-to-work laws is accurate. Guess what? It turns out you can’t just talk about the economy when people—and the media—want to talk about something else.

The polls suggesting he’s seven or nine points behind are surely wrong, but given that there is only one national poll that shows him ahead, we have to presume Romney is behind. He should presume he’s behind. And given that there’s no good reason whatever for Obama to be leading, one can only presume that Romney’s strategy in July and now in August is not working.

Which is why the “we only talk about the economy” line, while superficially clever, was and is so foolish—stupid, even. Of course Romney wants to focus on that one issue. It’s the one that hurts Obama the most, and the one on which he seems to score the best. He and his team have an idea about the campaign. They need to win independents to win. Independents are less ideological. So don’t press the ideological buttons. Keep it simple. Keep it plain. Obama has hurt you. I’ll help you. Fine.

But that’s not the only reason they’re doing it this way.

Romney and his people prefer this strategy because it’s what is most comfortable to them. He is not, at root, an ideological person. Neither, at root, are they. And the data suggest this is not a time for a sharply ideological campaign. The data suggest Romney needs to run as Mr. Fix-It. That is how Romney prefers to view himself. So the two match perfectly.

Alas for him, that’s not how it works. If conservative ideology is a problem with some independents, it also has the virtue of providing those who use it to discuss the nation’s problems with a pulse. Romney has just learned over the past few weeks that he cannot limit the discussion to the topics he wishes to talk about, especially when his rival is spending $100 million trying to destroy him in the swing states and when the media are largely serving his purposes by acting as though an increase in the unemployment rate and utterly unimpressive jobs-creation numbers are somehow good news.

So here’s why he should be talking about other things, releasing plans, giving speeches on big topics—because it’s the only way he can control the discussion. If he says the same thing about the economy every single day, he bores. He provides nothing new for anyone to fix on. He has to feed the beast. And it can’t just be that he puts his toe gingerly in the welfare-reform pool one day and then defend himself for three days after. It all has to keep moving.

In any case, if he doesn’t start putting things down on paper and develop the themes in speeches and get specific so that there is some meat on the bones of his policies, what on earth is he going to talk about for the next 88 days? Whether or not he killed a woman? This is a race he should be able to win, so if he loses, it won’t be because Obama won it. It will be because he lost it—and we’re seeing exactly how that might happen right now.

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Polls Agree: Obama Attacks Not Working

Yesterday’s USA Today/Gallup poll found President Obama’s attacks on Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital career have had little impact on the race. Today’s Reuters/Ipsos poll supposedly contradicts that finding, but don’t put much stock in that just yet:

Sustained attacks by President Barack Obama’s campaign on Republican rival Mitt Romney’s business history and refusal to release more tax records appear to be working, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed on Tuesday.

More than a third of voters who are registered to a party or as an independent said in the online survey that what they had heard about Romney’s taxes and his time at Bain Capital private equity firm had given them a less favorable impression of the Republican candidate.

And particularly worrying for Romney is that a large slice of independent voters — whom he needs to win the November 6 election — are also buying into the Obama campaign’s portrayal of him as a ruthless businessman who may be hiding something in his taxes.

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Yesterday’s USA Today/Gallup poll found President Obama’s attacks on Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital career have had little impact on the race. Today’s Reuters/Ipsos poll supposedly contradicts that finding, but don’t put much stock in that just yet:

Sustained attacks by President Barack Obama’s campaign on Republican rival Mitt Romney’s business history and refusal to release more tax records appear to be working, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed on Tuesday.

More than a third of voters who are registered to a party or as an independent said in the online survey that what they had heard about Romney’s taxes and his time at Bain Capital private equity firm had given them a less favorable impression of the Republican candidate.

And particularly worrying for Romney is that a large slice of independent voters — whom he needs to win the November 6 election — are also buying into the Obama campaign’s portrayal of him as a ruthless businessman who may be hiding something in his taxes.

According to the poll, 36 percent of registered voters said the attacks have given them a less favorable impression of Romney, but Democrats likely make up an overwhelming portion of that statistic.

As for independents, 26 percent viewed Romney less favorably and 13 percent more favorably after hearing attacks on his Bain record. In other words, 74 percent of independents either view Romney more favorably after the attacks, or simply don’t care. That’s the problem for Obama. If independent voters just yawn at his Bain attacks and move on, that’s almost as bad as if the attacks backfire altogether. He’s still sinking tons of money into messaging that isn’t helping him.

Also note that the Reuters/Ipsos poll has a “credibility interval” of plus or minus 8.7 percentage points for independents. That’s a massive margin of error, which makes it difficult to take away anything serious from its findings on independents.

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The Agent of (Negative) Change

According to a new poll for The Hill, two-thirds of likely voters say President Obama has kept his 2008 campaign promise to change America—but it’s changed for the worse.

The survey found 56 percent of likely voters believe Obama’s first term has transformed the nation in a negative way, compared to 35 percent who believe the country has changed for the better under his leadership.

As one would expect, the belief that the president has changed the country for the worse is strongest among Republicans (91 percent). Somewhat surprisingly, only 71 percent of Democrats believe Obama has changed things for the better. I say that because a strikingly high number of Democrats—one in five—are willing to admit they believe Obama has changed the United States for the worse.

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According to a new poll for The Hill, two-thirds of likely voters say President Obama has kept his 2008 campaign promise to change America—but it’s changed for the worse.

The survey found 56 percent of likely voters believe Obama’s first term has transformed the nation in a negative way, compared to 35 percent who believe the country has changed for the better under his leadership.

As one would expect, the belief that the president has changed the country for the worse is strongest among Republicans (91 percent). Somewhat surprisingly, only 71 percent of Democrats believe Obama has changed things for the better. I say that because a strikingly high number of Democrats—one in five—are willing to admit they believe Obama has changed the United States for the worse.

We’re now less than 120 days away from an election in which a sizeable majority of Americans believe the incumbent president has changed America for the worse.

This is the kind of finding that will have a deflating effect on Obama’s political team. Indeed, from the perspective of a re-election campaign, this news is devastating. And there’s very little Obama can do at this stage to reverse it.

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Sliming Romney Won’t Re-elect Obama

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.

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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.

In a close election, what both sides need more than anything else is to turn out their bases. Negative ads about Romney and Obama will help in that regard. The analogy that comes up most often is the way Republican abuse of John Kerry energized conservatives and hurt the Democrat’s efforts to win over independents. The assault on Kerry worked because he was an elitist who had little sympathy for the views of most Americans. Yet each election and each candidate is different. Romney does have a problem connecting with ordinary voters, and the attacks on his record at Bain Capital have done some damage. Romney is a rich guy, but for all of his wealth, he epitomizes the sort of mom and apple pie traditionalism that is hard to hate. Efforts to portray him as weird or sinister are not likely to succeed in the long run because they don’t fit in with his basic character.

Democrats may say they are just getting warmed up in their campaign to slime Romney, but if they get too focused on his personality or background they will be fighting a losing game. Despite his awkward public persona, his flaws don’t really lend themselves to the hate being whipped up against him. At a time when the economy is failing, his image as a wealthy business wiz can help rather than hurt him.

With less than four months to go before Americans go to the polls, the Obama campaign has already emptied its bag of tricks and finds itself effectively tied with the GOP. With a well-funded Romney effort able to answer the Democratic attacks and redouble their own assaults on Obama’s record, the question for the president is whether he will have any cards left to play once the effort to demonize Romney falls short of the mark.

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History + Media Bias = Likable Obama

President Obama has had a run of bad luck recently. National tracking polls show he remains in a dead heat with Republican challenger Mitt Romney. The result of the Wisconsin recall election was an ominous portent of Democratic trouble in a battleground state he won by double digits four years ago. And his idiotic comment about the private sector doing “just fine” solidified his image as being out of touch with the nation’s economic troubles and incapable of responding to the problem with anything but liberal cant. But the president does have a few cards up his sleeve in his battle for re-election. Chief among them is that pollsters consistently show that most Americans find him to be “likable.” As Politico notes, having strong favorability ratings is usually enough to get a candidate re-elected. But what makes this election so interesting is that President Obama’s high personal numbers are combined with other factors such as a horrible economy that normally spell doom to an incumbent.

Voters are still vaguely sympathetic to the president, and that’s a potent electoral factor when combined with all of the advantages that come with being an incumbent. But the trouble with this discussion is that the characterization of Obama as “likable” is somewhat of a misnomer as it implies tremendous charisma or genuine personal affection. What is at work in creating the president’s favorability ratings is nothing like the appeal of a Bill Clinton or a John F. Kennedy or even the mixed feelings many Americans harbored for George W. Bush (or at least did so until Hurricane Katrina, the lingering Iraq War and the spillover from the war on terror made a man who was widely seen as a great guy if an imperfect leader the most unpopular living president). Barack Obama’s popularity is not a function of his personality but the product of the historic nature of his presidency and the willingness of the mainstream media to treat him with a deference they have not shown to any of his predecessors since Kennedy.

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President Obama has had a run of bad luck recently. National tracking polls show he remains in a dead heat with Republican challenger Mitt Romney. The result of the Wisconsin recall election was an ominous portent of Democratic trouble in a battleground state he won by double digits four years ago. And his idiotic comment about the private sector doing “just fine” solidified his image as being out of touch with the nation’s economic troubles and incapable of responding to the problem with anything but liberal cant. But the president does have a few cards up his sleeve in his battle for re-election. Chief among them is that pollsters consistently show that most Americans find him to be “likable.” As Politico notes, having strong favorability ratings is usually enough to get a candidate re-elected. But what makes this election so interesting is that President Obama’s high personal numbers are combined with other factors such as a horrible economy that normally spell doom to an incumbent.

Voters are still vaguely sympathetic to the president, and that’s a potent electoral factor when combined with all of the advantages that come with being an incumbent. But the trouble with this discussion is that the characterization of Obama as “likable” is somewhat of a misnomer as it implies tremendous charisma or genuine personal affection. What is at work in creating the president’s favorability ratings is nothing like the appeal of a Bill Clinton or a John F. Kennedy or even the mixed feelings many Americans harbored for George W. Bush (or at least did so until Hurricane Katrina, the lingering Iraq War and the spillover from the war on terror made a man who was widely seen as a great guy if an imperfect leader the most unpopular living president). Barack Obama’s popularity is not a function of his personality but the product of the historic nature of his presidency and the willingness of the mainstream media to treat him with a deference they have not shown to any of his predecessors since Kennedy.

Though Obama clearly thinks of himself as cool, his personality could be better characterized as cold and calculating. Though not incapable of warmth or grace, his primary attribute seems to be thoughtfulness. That is not a bad trait for a president to possess, but it is not the same thing as an ability to connect with ordinary Americans. He might come across as a bit more accessible than Mitt Romney, a man whose personal awkwardness prevents him from exhibiting much of a common touch. But the mass outpouring for the Obama campaign in 2008 that often verged on an outpouring of messianism was not the product of the candidate’s personality.

Instead, the “hope and change” mantra that swept the nation four years ago was the expression of a belief in the idea of racial harmony and our ability to overcome America’s history of racial prejudice and install a new age of harmony and enlightenment. Such a movement cannot be sustained indefinitely, especially when the object of its adoration must adapt to the realities of office and is also shown to be in many respects merely an ordinary garden-variety politician.

But no matter how far short Obama falls of the Olympian expectations his followers had of him, he is always going to be the first African-American president of the United States. As such, he has been and will continue to be graded on a curve that none of the presidents who have come before him enjoyed. Electing him made a lot of Americans, even those who didn’t necessarily agree with him on the issues, feel good about their country and themselves. Throwing him out of office after one term will remove some of those good feelings, and that’s going to ensure he has a fighting chance in November .

Just as important is the media bias in his favor that is a by-product of the historic nature of his presidency. The president and his family are given a “Camelot” treatment that has not been seen or heard since the Kennedys were charming the nation in the early 60s with the willful assistance of an adoring and purposefully blind press corps. That gives Obama an advantage that even the most liberal of his recent predecessors didn’t possess.

But while we should not be deceived by President Obama’s likability ratings in the polls into thinking that he is actually likable in the normal sense of the word, Republicans should not be under the misimpression this will be a negligible factor in the coming election. His historic status and liberal media bias are what has kept his favorability ratings afloat, but they are no less real for being the product of these arbitrary factors. If the economy improves even a little bit and Romney is seen as faltering, this may be enough for him to be re-elected.

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