Been watching the presidential campaign?
Seen all those attack ads and seeming verbal gaffes and millions of Super PAC dollars? Ignore it. None of it seems to matter so far. This is the most stable presidential campaign I have seen since 1996, when Bill Clinton led Bob Dole by just about 10 points the whole way.
Public opinion regarding Barack Obama and Mitt Romney refuses to budge.
Any single poll might suggest a wider gap or a marriage gap or a move one way or another, but when we look at a “poll of polls” — essentially an average of all polls — we are almost exactly where we started.
12/1/2011 polling averages: Obama +2.3% over Romney
7/19/2012, polling averages: Obama +2.1% over Romney
So what gives? Why does nothing seem to give?
Three thoughts, after the fold.
I’d say there are three factors that have produced a presidential stalemate. So far.
1. Nothing new to see here.
Obama and Romney have both been fixtures on the presidential scene since early 2007, when they announced their candidacies for the White House.
By now most Americans have decided whether Obama is the messiah, the anti-Christ, a disappointment, or a brilliant chess-master facing a truculent political opposition. There aren’t many who aren’t sure.
Similar story with Romney. Not a lot of folks are still trying to figure out whether he is a business savant, a flip-flopping political cipher, a family man or a con man. People are pretty set in their views of the Republican candidate.
Campaigns really matter where there are big unknowns. These candidates are knowns.
2. Each has an albatross.
For Obama it’s the economy, of course. The last three monthly U.S. jobs reports have been poor. America isn’t hemorrhaging jobs, as it was when Obama took office in 2009, but neither is the nation adding enough jobs to keep up with population increases. CBS News opened its evening news broadcast Tuesday night with some bad, bad news — for the nation and Obama.
For Romney, it’s his history at private-equity firm Bain Capital and his personal taxes. Every time he runs for office — 1994 for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, 2002 for Massachusetts governor, 2008 and 2012 for the presidency — these are the issues he has to address. Romney is adamant that he isn’t releasing anything except for his 2010 and 2011 tax returns.
But a national poll by Democratic Party-aligned Public Policy Polling over last weekend asked a question about Romney’s tax returns. PPP offered these two tweets:
56% of voters nationally think Mitt Romney should release 12 years of tax returns, 34% think he should not: images.politico.com/global/2012/07…
— PublicPolicyPolling (@ppppolls) July 17, 2012
Independents think Romney should release 12 years of returns by a 61/27 margin: images.politico.com/global/2012/07…
— PublicPolicyPolling (@ppppolls) July 17, 2012
Each of these candidates has a huge political liability. As a result, it’s hard for either to get liftoff.
3. Each has one unplayed ace.
For Romney, he will soon announce his vice-presidential running mate. It will be the one guaranteed moment of media attention for the campaign.
It’s almost certainly going to be one of these folks: Rob Portman, Bobby Jindal, or Tim Pawlenty. Portman is a U.S. Senator in Ohio and brings his experience as a seven-term member of the House of Representatives, Director of the Office of Management and Budget in the George W. Bush administration, and positioning in a key swing state. Jindal is a popular governor of Louisiana, and brings a compelling story as an Indian-American and a beloved status among Christian conservatives. Pawlenty is a solid-stock former Minnesota governor who is popular among Christian conservatives, but is better known among national politicos and more familiar with the scrutiny of the national press than Jindal.
If the Romney camp can execute a successful VP pick (not always accomplished, we know), it will give them a small uptick in the polls and a chance to gain the momentum. In a very close race, that could be enough. I think it will be Pawlenty and that he will be a solid No. 2.
For Obama he’s got a very different ace to play — himself. He has fallen far down the rhetorical mountaintop, but he’s still got the ability to move a crowd and to inspire many Americans. Romney does not, I can assure you. I have seen him on the stump and he’s far more Michael Dukakis than Michael Jackson.
Whatever one thinks of his policies, Obama personally IS hope and change. As the nation’s first African American president, he embodies what America wants to be — a nation of equality and opportunity for all.
This embodiment, plus his support for immigration and tax breaks for the middle class, have led him to some astounding levels of support among ethnic minorities. Consider the accompanying poll numbers among Latino registered voters, just released yesterday.
If Latinos turn out to vote in large numbers, Obama will win comfortably.
But for now, the known, albatross-laden presidential candidates play on. No aces yet. And almost no movement in the polls.