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June 07, 2012

Sabato: Swing Voters Have Almost As Negative An Opinion of Obama As Romney Supporters

This is pretty interesting. This isn't a rah-rah, Romney will win thing. Because the trouble is, even while harboring a negative view of Obama, they're still swing voters. They are not willing, at least not yet, to say they support Romney.

This is more of an insight into campaign strategy. Fact: "Swing voters" who have a negative opinion of Obama -- nearly as negative as Romney supporters -- are not yet willing to choose between Obama and Romney.

Problem, then: How do you get them to choose? If you can get them to choose -- and vote -- it seems likely that most will cast ballots for Romney. Given a negative impression of Obama, they seem on the cusp of making that decision. And yet only -- frustratingly, tantalizingly -- on the cusp.

Sabato's interesting conclusion: It is not in Barack Obama's interests to try to persuade these voters, or push them to the polls. They will probably vote against him if they do.

On the other hand, it is in Romney's interest to attempt to persuade them and mobilize them. The majority of them probably would vote for him (even if not particularly enthusiastically).

The data in Table 1 show that compared with voters supporting a candidate, swing voters were disproportionately white and female. They were also much more likely to describe themselves as completely independent and much less likely to describe themselves as Democrats or independents leaning toward the Democratic Party. But the most dramatic differences between swing voters and voters supporting a candidate involved their opinions about President Obama and their enthusiasm about voting in 2012.

Swing voters had much more negative opinions of President Obama’s job performance than other voters. In fact, their opinions were almost as negative as those of Romney supporters. Only 11% of swing voters approved of Obama’s job performance compared with 6% of Romney voters. In contrast, 92% of Obama voters approved of the president’s job performance.

But while swing voters were similar to Romney voters in their evaluation of President Obama’s job performance, they were much less enthusiastic about voting. Only 19% of swing voters described themselves as extremely or very enthusiastic about voting in 2012 compared with 47% of Romney supporters and 50% of Obama supporters. And 58% of swing voters described themselves as not too enthusiastic or not at all enthusiastic about voting compared with only 27% of Romney supporters and 21% of Obama supporters.

Obama, in fact, may be hoping for a rather low turnout election -- or at least a low turnout among these voters. His base, as ever, he wants to greatly turnout. But these voters -- he'd prefer keeping them bored and on the fence and not bothered with voting.

A couple days back, Brit Hume appeared on O'Reilly. O'Reilly argued (in the simplified version) that all Romney needed to do was run attack ads against Obama's economic performance. Hume disagreed:

"My thought about that would be that Romney will undoubtedly run a lot of ads that add up to saying that, and he will say it a lot himself and so will his surrogates on the campaign trail,” Hume said. “I think Romney has — look, I think Obama’s record is such a burden to him that he has no real choice but to go negative and go negative hard, which to a great extent he has.”

The reason Romney shouldn’t go as negative, Hume said, was to set up a contrast between him and the negativity of Obama.

I think Romney is in a different position because when people turn to the prospect of, ‘Well OK, what happens if we elect him’ — he needs to radiate something of a positive spirit … I would just say that people need to believe that if they turn to him, he can make things better. And if he seems morose and negative all the time, he’ll fail to convey that sunny spirit. He needs a bit of sunlight in his message and I think that’s important to him. In a way that’s the game and it’s too late for Obama. He can have all the sunlight in his message that he wants. The results kind of speak for themselves.”

Sabato's analysis may seem to back up Hume's prescription, if we make assumptions about the bulk of the swing voters -- that they'd want something to vote for rather than just against, and sunlight and optimism are the best chances of doing so.

That is indeed the conventional take, and when I say that, I don't mean it in a negative way. I'm not so foolish to think that all conventional wisdom became so just because people are dumb.

The conventional wisdom has been that a winning presidential candidate is sunny, rather than sour, and bright, rather than bitter.

I think that's largely right.

One thing, though: Many conservatives believe that when we talk about swing voters, we're not merely talking about squishy moderates. We're also talking about harder-core conservatives who will not vote for what they consider to be a lightweight.

In this analysis, Romney needs to do more than project sunny confidence. He needs to announce and unapologetically hard-core conservative message.

I'm pretty sure we're not going to get the sort of "Repudiate Socialism" message that some might want, so that seems out.

However, Romney could manage a trick Sarah Palin did:* Connect tonally with such voters, by going hard after Obama, at least on the things that Romney is most willing to go after Obama on: His miserable failure on the economy.

(*Why do I say that's a trick? I don't mean it's a deceit; I mean it's a difficult play to execute. Sarah Palin united the party in 2008 because she excited two diverging blocs -- libertarians, who took her Alaskan independence and winking sexiness to indicate she was one of them, and social conservatives, who embraced her for her decisions on Trig and her general background. It's very hard to excite two different blocs with divergent views. Sometimes you give something to one bloc on paper, and make a tonal appeal to the other. I think Sarah Palin, wittingly or not, achieved this.)

What Romney does depends on the precise ratios of "squish moderates" and "Red-hearted conservatives" in this swing voter mix. Of course it's a mix, but the proportions will make his decision for him. He'll try to win both, but at the end of the day, the numbers will dictate how much of A is attempted and how much of B.

Charles Krauthammer, who often gets an undeserved reputation as some kind of RINO, actually seems to lean towards the bold agenda.

"But I think the lesson for the presidential campaign is for Romney, that he is extremely risk-averse by nature. There is nothing wrong with that but I think this is showing him that you don't have to be to win this election. You can try to win by going minimal, by running against Obama's stewardship on the bad economy and your credential as a businessman."

"But there's another option," Krauthammer explained. "And that is to do as well to add on to that the ideological element of it. This election showed, in Wisconsin, that kind spirit of 2010, the kind of if you like Constitutional conservative philosophy; smaller government is still alive and well and can be used in this election."

"And I think there are elements of the Ryan plan that Romney might want to highlight, either tax reform or entitlement reform, but something that is risky and bold and strong. I'm not sure he would do it but it would help him and Wisconsin is saying this is going to work. The electorate has grown up and they can take it," Mr. Krauthammer said.

I'd really like to know more about this very small cadre (10%) of swing voters.

digg this
posted by Ace at 04:24 PM

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