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Romney hit hard on Bain/taxes…where’s the effect?

July 19th, 2012, 9:55am by Sam Wang

It’s been over a week since Romney’s continuing involvement in Bain in 1999-2002 have been in the spotlight, how they make money, and whether he will ever fully release his tax returns (see also Fallows here). The effect on the race so far…none. Contra Sullivan, Obama is ahead, but it’s tight.

Summer polls are sparse, but by now some effect should have made itself visible. Since June, the EV estimator has fluctuated between 297 and 315 EV. Today it is still in that range, at Obama 303, Romney 235. Likewise, national opinion polls are unchanged, at Obama +2.0 +/- 0.9%. Perhaps the clearest picture is in the Meta-Margin Рdefined as how far state polls would have to shift to make an electoral near-tie. It is at a near-low, Obama +2.12%. So in fact the race might be tightening slightly, especially in swing states.

From a tactical standpoint, is the Bain/tax issue a repeat of 2008’s anti-Obama “Celebrity” ad campaign, which never had a measurable effect? Or is it like the Swift Boating of John Kerry, which took weeks to sink in? Time will tell, though I am starting to wonder if this will be a fairly static campaign.

Tags: 2012 Election · Politics · President

8 Comments so far ↓

  • Matt McIrvin

    It seems like the horcerace-pundit emotional consensus swings around wildly, even as the race itself changes very little. A few days ago at the height of the Bain/taxes attacks, Obama supporters seemed to be really happy. In the past 24-48 hours, under the influence of the “you didn’t build that” counterattack, they’ve been freaking out again about how it’s a tossup and Obama is about to lose Virginia.

    I suppose the horrible shooting in Colorado has put it all on hold for a few hours, but surely it’s all going to start up again on the basis of reactions to that…

  • Sam Wang

    I aspire for poll aggregation to be used as a thermometer to determine whether a news event had any impact on opinion. If not, use media bandwidth for a discussion of issues of more lasting importance than horserace reporting.

    This aspiration is probably a pipe dream.

  • Sean

    I think people are wrong to expect a direct impact in the polls. This isn’t a narrative that plunges support, rather allows for a drip of support over time.

    I’d also wager the McCain ads would have proven more effective in a different climate. Obama’s lead up until the Democratic Convention was essentially insignificant and after, when McCain picked Palin and the Republicans held their own convention, McCain actually overtook Obama and kept that lead until a mix of Palin’s vetting and the economic meltdown all but erased ’em.

    Had neither happened, had McCain picked Pawlenty and there was no financial catastrophe, I think the ad, and the narrative it set, would have been far more successful than it eventually was. It might not have won him the race, but it would’ve kept it closer, as it was looking until the markets collapsed and the economy plunged into a mega-recession.

    The problem with Romney, which is similar to something facing Kerry in ’04, is that these ads are the first true introduction the American people are getting of Romney. They might know him from the primaries, but do they really know him? This is more devastating, IMO, because it goes directly to his core values. The McCain celebrity ad for Obama didn’t do that. It wasn’t really an attack on his values or questioning his background, it just namely was trying to write him off as a substanceless icon. He was all sizzle and no steak.

    The Romney ads, though? Well they hit on multi-dimensional fronts. Not only does it suggest he’s being overly secretive with his tax returns (it doesn’t help more and more Republicans are saying he needs to release ’em), it also raises questions about what he did at Bain and whether he’s being totally honest with the American people. It’s very similar to the Kerry ads in the sense it brings into question is integrity as an individual.

    Those type of ads seem to work better than gimmick ads like McCain tossed out in ’08. It worked in ’04 with Kerry and especially in ’88 with Dukakis (maybe it has something to do with politicians from Massachusetts?!?) and I think, down the road, that will prove effective for the Obama campaign.

    Moreover, we get way too caught up in national polls. They only give an indication of the state of the race and yes. it’s close nationally. However, it’s entirely possible Obama wins by a narrow margin in the popular vote and wins in an electoral landslide similar to Clinton in ’92.

    He could win every narrow state by less than two-points and still enjoy a comfortable victory that ends with a speech just after midnight on the east coast.

    So, I think the ads very well could work at defining Romney and ultimately boost Obama’s numbers in the coming weeks.

    One thing I want to point out is how fluid this race has been and how that, IMO, suits Obama more than Romney. We like to put weight on every bad jobs report that’s released and in the end, they have had little impact on the overall structure of this race. The media made a huge deal about that awful May jobs report, the fact unemployment increased by .1%, and how dramatic has the race changed since then?

    On the day the jobs report was released, Obama’s average lead was 2.3%. Currently, it’s 1.9% – a difference of all but .4% in essentially a month and a half.

    So, now the question becomes – where can Romney overtake Obama? At some point, the challenger is going to have to prove he’s capable of leading in the polls. It doesn’t matter what margin he trails by, he’s still trailing and as I pointed out in ’04, Kerry had led Bush in far more consecutive days/months than Romney has ever led Obama. In fact, the last time Romney led Obama in the average of polling was October, 2011 – so, quite a while ago.

    If you’re a challenger, you’ve got to make your move and the longer you fail to make that move, the more it becomes likely you won’t make it and you’ll actually lose.

    Maybe it’s at the convention. That’s where Clinton made his move in ’92 – he trailed Bush for most of the year until the convention that year and left with a 29-point lead…even though he was down 1 point prior to the convention. That’s a 30-point swing! Of course, a great deal of that had to do with Perot exiting the race, but even with Perot, he probably leaves New York with the lead.

    But I doubt anyone expects that type of bump from Romney. Obama is infinitely more popular than Bush was at this point twenty years ago. Plus, as Clinton was Clinton, he had a great ability to connect with the voters.

    I’m rambling now, but eh, my overall point here is that Romney will probably get a bounce from the convention. But so will Obama & Obama’s convention is after the Republicans (days after, in fact, whereas Clinton’s convention was a month before Bush’s, allowing time for his final speech to sink in). In ’08, the day after Obama delivered his well-received speech in Denver, McCain announced Palin as his veep nominee and it essentially blunted any momentum gained. Romney won’t have that luxury. When Obama’s speech wraps up in Charlotte (and let’s just assume it will be at least good, since he is good at speaking), there is the possibility for an extended bounce.

    If Romney can’t overtake Obama prior to the convention, or if he doesn’t leave Tampa with a significant lead, where’s the point he overtakes Obama – the debates? In the final hours?

    The stability of this race indicates that there just isn’t rapid movement either way. That favors Obama. If Romney can’t find traction in the next month or so, I’m not going to write him off, but it will be very hard imagining an Obama loss.

  • Wu

    (1) Didn’t you put up a more recent post? It seems to have disappeared.

    (2) What do you think of this Jeff Greenfield piece from today which looks at Presidential predictions (and what Grrenfield calls an “assessment” by him) and finds Obama in ‘dismal’ shape?–the-prediction-models-look-dismal-for-obama–can-he-still-win-.html

  • Matt McIrvin

    We’re in an odd situation right now, in that the national horcerace polls all seem to be moving significantly toward Romney, and many aggregates have him in the lead (granted a lot of that is just Rasmussen, but some of this is happening in other polls as well). Yet the EV counts seem stable or maybe even moving toward Obama.

    An interesting question is, is this just the lag inherent in state-poll aggregation? Are we going to see a big Romney wave in state polling soon? I don’t see any evidence of it in recent state polls.

    It could be pure noise, or (least likely, I think) a sign of some kind of real PV/EV split developing, which would make political reporters really happy.

    • Sam Wang

      I think the true national margin is currently Obama +2%. If you use medians instead of calculating averages, the Rasmussen-induced distortion goes away. I should point that out.

      But yes, there is some additional swing-state thing going on.

  • Matt McIrvin

    The Greenfield article seems reasonable enough. He’s saying that “fundamentals” models based on economic data look really bad for Obama, and that Obama’s probably doing as well as he is, and could win reelection, largely because Romney is personally weak. I don’t think anyone would disagree at least on the first point.

  • Olav Grinde

    This is fascinating reading! I look forward to more commentary from Mr Wang and posts from others in the weeks and months ahead

    I love this site for its sobriety and its clear analysis.

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