New Proof That the Bain Attacks Aren’t Working

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JULY 17, 2012

New Proof That the Bain Attacks Aren’t Working

In the eyes of the media and most political observers, the past week has been a large negative for Mitt Romney. After all, they say, each day spent talking about Romney’s record at Bain rather than Obama’s record on job creation is a plus for the Obama campaign. That’s Chapter 1 of the negative campaigning manual, and it sounds completely plausible.

The difficulty is that, thus far, it’s surprisingly difficult to find evidence that this exchange is changing voters’ minds. In the first place, the national tracking polls haven’t budged. One could argue, of course, that those surveys aren’t the right place to look, because the Obama campaign’s advertising has focused on the swing states; one might then counter, however, that the story went national very quickly because the free media took it over and amplified it many-fold.

But for the sake of argument, let’s accept the proposition that the swings states are ground zero for the Ban controversy. What are people in those states thinking?

The latest Purple Poll, released on July 16, offers some insight. Across the 12 swing states, Obama leads Romney 47 to 45, essentially unchanged from last month’s 48 to 46. Among independents in those states, Romney’s edge stands at 5 points, essentially unchanged from his 6-point edge a month ago.

This month’s survey broke out four states—Florida, Colorado, Virginia, and Ohio. Here’s how they stand: Florida, 48-45 Romney; Colorado, 45-44 Obama; Virginia, 46-44 Obama; Ohio, 48-45 Obama. Of the four, Ohio appears to be the swingiest: two months ago, Obama led by 5 points; a month ago, Romney led by 3; today, Obama leads by 3.

What about new information, and how is it affecting the voters’ views of the candidates? Sixty-two percent of voters say they’ve heard new information about Romney during the past month. That sounds ominous for the Republican candidate. But then again, 60 percent say they’ve heard new information about Obama. 38 percent say the new information is making them less favorable toward Romney, which sounds bad, but even more—40 percent—say it’s making them less favorable toward the president.

It’s not hard to guess what news swing state voters have been getting about Romney. But the survey makes it clear that the news they’re getting about Obama centers on the economy, and they don’t think the news is good. As recently as March, 39 percent of swing state voters believed that the economy was getting better. Today, only 28 percent feel that way, while the share of voters who think it’s getting worse has moved up to 42 percent. During that same period, the share of wing state voters with an unfavorable view of Romney declined from 56 to 49 percent, while those with a favorable view went from 29 to 41 percent. During the past month, as the Bain attacks have intensified, Romney’s unfavorables haven’t budged.

As of today, anyway, the voters in these key states are balanced on a knife’s edge. Forty-six percent believe that Obama is unable to improve the economy, while 45 percent doubt that Romney could do a better job. Forty-four percent think that Obama is a failure as president; 44 percent think that Romney is too out of touch to be president.

The following is a summary of key state findings:        

 

Colorado

Virginia

Ohio

Florida

Obama job approval

45

45

46

43

Romney favorable

37

41

37

47

Obama a failure

44

42

45

50

Romney too out of touch

45

42

46

41

BHO can’t improve economy

46

47

45

50

Romney couldn’t do better

45

43

46

40

News less favorable for BHO

42

39

40

44

News less favorable for Mitt

42

37

38

33

Of these four crucial states, Romney is clearly strongest, and Obama weakest, in Florida. Indeed, I’d be willing to bet that Romney will carry the state in November.

But that’s only a necessary condition for the success of his campaign. There’s a narrow path that leads to Obama’s reelection without passing through Ohio; there’s no such path for Romney. No Republican has ever been elected president without carrying Ohio, and Romney won’t be the first. The Obama campaign understands that if they can keep that state out of Romney’s hands, they win, and the president has just about taken residency there.

Meanwhile, the Romney campaign needs to decide what to do about the Bain attacks. I know nothing about debates among his top advisors. But sight unseen, I’d bet that some are citing statistics along the lines of the ones I’ve presented to argue for a steady-as-you-go strategy. “This isn’t hurting you among real voters,” they may well be saying, “and the media fire will fizzle out for lack of new oxygen. So why add fuel by releasing more tax returns?” Other advisors, though, could argue that the costs of downplaying the danger could be very high if the optimists have guessed wrong. “Remember Dukakis and the Pledge of Allegiance?” they can ask. “Remember Kerry and the Swift boats?” Refute the Bain allegations now, whatever it takes, and then pivot to the offensive.

In the past week, we’ve learned that the Romney campaign was not adequately prepared to reply to a charge they must have known was coming. In the week to come, we’ll learn a lot more about the gut judgments that Romney brings to the fray.                          

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posted in: william galston, colorado, florida, ohio, virginia, virginia, the plank

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