ELECTIONATE JULY 27, 2012
If you live inside the Beltway, you probably think that Romney had a terrible month. Since Obama cornered him on the DREAM Act, Romney has been hit on outsourcing, his time at Bain Capital, and his tax returns. But here we are a month later, and Romney’s still standing roughly where he was before. That has some Obama-fans worried about Romney’s resilience and the effectiveness of Obama’s strategy: Obama must really be in trouble, the argument goes, if Romney didn’t lose any support after a terrible month. But while that instinct is understandable, Romney’s resilience isn’t a sign of any great strength—it just demonstrates that he has a relatively high floor.
If Romney was above 50 percent and withstood a month of bad press, that would be a real sign of resilience. But Romney’s not at 50 percent; he’s at 45 percent. And that essentially means that Romney holds the reliably Republican vote, and not very much more. The polls tell us that nearly all of these voters disapprove of Obama’s performance and that most are Republicans or Republican-leaning independents. History suggests that they have voted for Republicans in recent elections—for instance, in 2008, McCain won 45.9 percent of the vote in a hostile political climate. So 45 percent is a logical floor for Romney, given the intensity of Republican opposition to Obama. For that same reason, analysts shouldn’t be too impressed with Romney’s gains until he consistently scores above 45 or 46 percent, which would be a sign of persuading undecided voters rather than consolidating natural supporters.
Should Obama supporters be concerned that Romney’s horse-race numbers aren’t diving? Probably not. With a unified GOP-base committed to replacing President Obama, it will take something pretty extraordinary to get Romney’s numbers to fall beneath 45 percent. But the factors allowing Romney to hold firm at 45 do not necessarily ensure an easy route to 50. After all, despite low approval ratings and tepid economic growth, Romney hasn’t made very much progress toward winning over the undecided swing voters harboring concerns about Obama’s performance.
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