Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Negative Coattails

It's time to start speculating on whether Romney's gaff-riddled campaign is going to affect down-ballot races. Normally in a presidential election there is something called the "coattail effect": the presence of a popular president on the ballot cannot help but influence races on the state and congressional level. When people turn out enthusiastically to vote for the top of the ticket, it means votes for all those other candidates.

But what if the candidate at the top of the ticket is such a hapless boob that he poisons everything he touches? Let's face it, GOP: if you guys had put up a half-viable candidate, say someone like former Senator Bob Dole, you would have won this thing in a cakewalk. The economy is weak, so all you would have needed to do is articulate a clear alternative that people actually like. Instead, you chose one of the least likeable people on the planet as your nominee (not saying he's a bad guy, just that it's really hard to like someone who acts like such an entitled jerk all the time), and then had him campaign on one of the least-likeable ideas to come down the pike in decades (the Ryan Budget). Add to this the fact that Romney has continually stumbled when it comes to responding to the opposition. Hell, even a few Republicans must be wondering whether it's wise to trust Romney with that 3AM phone call.

Obama's personal popularity continues to hover around 50-50. This is down from a few months ago when a clear majority liked the president (this is personal approval as opposed to job approval, the latter of which is also hovering around 50-50). This should be an opening for the opposition to make headway.

But that's not how it's turning out. SuperPACs have spent upwards of a half-billion dollars running negative ads against the White House. It hasn't worked. State-by-state, the Electoral College remains almost totally unchanged from where it was six months ago (it makes you wonder how long it will be before the billionaires turn-off the cash spigot and cut their losses). And while Obama isn't the most popular president in history, he's doing much better than his opponent (from the Washington Post/ABC News):

13. (ASKED OF REGISTERED VOTERS) Regardless of who you may support, who do you think [ITEM] - (Obama) or (Romney)?

9/9/12 - Summary Table*
                                                     Both    Neither     No
                                                 Obama   Romney   (vol.)   (vol.)    opinion
a. Better understands the 
   economic problems people              
   in this country are having            50       40        3        4         3
b. Is the stronger leader                  50       42        2        2         5
c. Seems like the more friendly  
   and likeable person                      61       27        5        3         3
d. Would work better with both
   (Democrats) and (Republicans) 
   in Congress                                   46       41        1        8         4                 
*Full sample asked items a-b; half sample asked item c; other half sample asked item d.


a. Better understands the economic problems people in this country are having

                                   Both    Neither     No
                 Obama   Romney   (vol.)   (vol.)    opinion
9/9/12     RV    50           40        3           4         3
8/25/12   RV    47           40        1           9         2
7/8/12     RV    51           40        2           5         2
5/20/12   RV    48           40        2           8         2
4/8/12     RV    49           38        2           8         2
2/4/12     RV    52           37        2           7         2

b. Is the stronger leader

                              Both    Neither     No
                 Obama   Romney   (vol.)   (vol.)    opinion
9/9/12 RV         50          42        2        2            5
7/8/12 RV         46          44        3        2            6
4/8/12 RV         48          42        1        5            5

c. Seems like the more friendly and likable person

                               Both    Neither     No
                     Obama   Romney   (vol.)   (vol.)    opinion
9/9/12   RV          61       27           5              3         3
8/25/12 RV          61       27           6              4         2
7/8/12   RV          63       26           5              2         4
4/8/12   RV          64       28           3              2         3

d. would work better with both (Democrats) and (Republicans) in Congress                    

                              Both    Neither     No
                  Obama   Romney   (vol.)   (vol.)    opinion
9/9/12      RV    46           41        1           8         4
There's lots of other interesting data if you follow the link. The bottom line, though, is that Romney could have beaten Obama on the economy -- if he had been more likeable. If, for example, the GOP had nominated someone with a polished media persona -- someone like former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee -- it could have been a rout. But that didn't happen. In fact, all of the true heavy hitters on the GOP bench chose to sit this race out. I wonder why? Maybe it's because they're smarter-by-half than occupants the GOP clown car that toured the nation over the past year. Better to keep your powder dry for 2016 (we can anticipate Huckabee to mount a formidable challenge).

So, unless something major happens to shake this race up, the numbers are not going to move much between now and election day. People simply don't like Romney, even if they have reservations about the president.

But Romney's lack of personal charm -- or, more accurately, negative charm; he seems to keep spinning gold into straw -- could be an issue when it comes to the GOP getting its people to the polls. Romney/Ryan's presence at the top of the ticket is poison for those GOP candidates who are in close races.

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