Consider these two headlines. First, from the Atlantic Wire: "Bain Attacks Are Working In Swing States." Then, from Business Insider: "POLL: Most People Have Never Heard of Bain Capital." And here's the punch line: Both articles are about the same poll from NBC and The Wall Street Journal. So which is it?
As for the latter, it's true that 53 percent of the people in the poll said they didn't have an opinion about Bain Capital, which is not quite the same thing as saying they had never heard of it (and 8 percent said they had a positive opinion of the company, while 20 percent had a negative opinion). But I doubt the Obama campaign really cares whether people remember the name of the company Mitt Romney worked for. The question they're trying to influence is the more basic one about Mitt Romney's business career: Did that career turn Romney into a skilled manager who understands the economy and can help it get back on track, or did it reveal Romney to be a ruthless vulture capitalist who cares only about making profits and helping the wealthy at the expense of ordinary people?
And on the swing state question, this poll (with the caveat that it's only one poll) suggests that the Obama campaigns efforts are having an impact. If you don't live in one of those swing states, the campaign isn't touching you, but if you do, the candidates are coming around and there are lots and lots of ads on your TV, including ads about Mitt Romney's business career. Which could explain this:
Mr. Obama's advantage is more pronounced among poll respondents in 12 battleground states which, taken as a group, favor him 50% to 42%. His larger lead in those states, which include Nevada, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Virginia, could reflect the impact of ads by his campaign that criticized Mr. Romney's record as a businessman and portrayed him as out of touch with the middle class...
But the poll found that Mr. Romney's long business resume is a mixed blessing: Some 23% said they viewed him more positively because of it, but 28% said it made them view Mr. Romney more negatively. The gap was more pronounced in swing states, where only 18% viewed his business experience positively and 33% viewed it negatively. Mr. Romney's background was described in the poll as "managing a firm that specializes in buying, restructuring and selling companies.''
One more thing: You can bet that both campaigns are polling their little hearts out to determine the effect of everything they do. And if the Obama campaign didn't have evidence that attacking Bain was having an impact, they wouldn't keep coming up with ads like this one, which they just put up in different versions in a bunch of swing states.
It doesn't really matter whether the outsourcing attack makes more or less of a difference than the bankrupting-companies-and-absconding-with-profits attack. In a week they'll probably move on to some other feature of the Bain story as they want to tell it. Then they'll circle back, and back again. The best evidence we'll have that it isn't working is if they start talking about something else. And they haven't yet.