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June 12, 2012

It's Not the Economy, Stupid: Carville, Greenberg Again Find That Talking About Economic Progress Is a Losing Message

Narratives.

Democracy Corps, the political consulting group run by Greenberg and Carville, showed several Obama campaign commercials to focus groups in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Several of the group members, who were "all independents or weak partisans and ticket-splitters" and included both Obama and McCain voters from 2008, became irritated when shown Obama ads touting economic improvement. They don't see that improvement in their own lives, the report says, and they don't believe Obama when he claims things are better.

...

After extensive interviews with the groups, Greenberg and Carville conclude that Obama's current campaign message -- that he inherited a terrible economy but that now things are getting better -- is disastrously wrong. "We will face an impossible headwind in November if we do not move to a new narrative," Greenberg and Carville write, "one that contextualizes the recovery but, more importantly, focuses on what we will do to make a better future for the middle class."

Although the report looks bad for Obama, it was a reality check for me because these independent/weak-partisan/ticket-splitting voters dislike Romney as a person, calling him "out of touch" and insulated from the problems of ordinary Americans. One nugget that resonates with him is Romney's overseas bank accounts.

At the end of the day, though, more of these voters select Romney as better able to guide the economy back to health.

Although Romney's problems seem deeper than I expected -- and this jibes well with that analysis by Larry Sabato, noting that while these voters have almost as low an opinion of Obama's job performance as actual Romney supporters, and yet still don't support Romney -- I still think my general take is sound: Obama is, right now at least, the underdog. Romney has problems, no doubt -- Bain/offshore bank accounts/rich guy/"Horse Ballet" have had their impact -- but at the end of the day these voters prioritize the economy over the issue of Horse Ballet (of course).

I will also say this: Romney has not had what you would call a non-confrontational moment in the spotlight. All the stuff the public knows of him is from acrimonious debates and probing/hostile interviews (in which he often gets peevish and angry).

Obama, on the other hand, has had a lot of opportunities to just be friendly, loose, and human on camera.

In 1992 Clinton experienced what was termed a "Super Bounce" at his nominating convention. He gave a good speech, connected with the national audience, and finally looked like the gifted politician his supporters had thought he was. The media -- which was of course in his corner anyway -- wasn't far off when they proclaimed he "made the sale with the American public" with his presentation. (Even so, of course, he only got 43% of the vote, albeit in a three-way race with a serious third-party opponent.)

Romney hasn't yet had that opportunity, of course. But Romney's been involved in a lot of major sales.


Looking It Up: An old post of mine asserts that Clinton got a 16 point "Superbounce" from the 1992 DNC speech. I imagine that was in level of actual support (voter preference) because that's what they'd be polling at that time. But my old article doesn't specify. The historic average for post-convention bounces is 8 points, but I believe that old average is no longer operative: There are fewer true undecided voters up for grabs anymore.

Putting on my prognostication cap, I'm pretty confident Romney will get a big bounce from his (bigger than present circumstances would suggest, on average). He really has had no opportunity, yet, to make any kind of human connection with the public. Even a meh effort will still be 45 minutes of talking to the public without reporters or rivals sniping at him.

But I really hope he manages something more than meh.

More: It occurs to me that expectations will be Romney's friend. The Democrats have successfully painted Romney as robotic and Other; Romney thus has to appear to be a human being (which, in fact, he is) and to some extent he's already winning.

I don't know if this is true or not -- O'Reilly asserted it in an interview with Romney and Romney didn't want to talk about it. The assertion is that Romney actually gave up the inheritance from his father, donating it to charity, so he could make his own way. (Armed, however, with his dad's connections and a first-rate Ivy League education.)

If that anecdote is true -- For God's sake, Mitt Romney has to mention it in his speech. Don't give me this crap about being uncomfortable with bragging. It ain't bragging if it's true.

Context For the Superbounce: @justkarl tells me that Clinton got such a huge bounce because Perot had dropped out of the race (temporarily), and de facto endorsed Clinton by ripping the first Bush, so a larger than usual number of voters were, at that moment, up for grabs.


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