It's Still a Toss-Up

The latest survey from the Pew Research Center is a comprehensive look at Obama’s performance with the electorate over the past month, with good and bad news. On the good end, Obama is leading Romney among all voters, 49 percent to 42 percent. He’s maintained his 2008 strength among Latinos and African Americans, and is only losing white voters by 12 percent–a good sign for the incumbent. Indeed, his strong performance among white college graduates–48 percent to Romney’s 47 percent–makes up for his weak support among white without a college degree. If Obama can improve his performance among downscale whites–even if it’s only by a percentage point or two–he’ll be in significantly better shape.

There’s been some speculation that the Obama campaign’s attacks on Bain Capital have backfired, but there’s little evidence of that in the Pew survey. Obama wins voters with incomes of $75,000 to $99,000–47 percent to 45 percent–and nearly matches Romney with higher income voters, 47 percent to 48 percent. If there were a Bain backlash, you would expect greater support for Romney among that demographic. Obama has also maintained large support among women; he leads Romney by 11 points among all women, and only trails by 5 points among white women. Again, this suggests that there’s a lot to gain by emphasizing the Republican Party’s strong opposition to equal pay, its obstruction on the Violence Against Women Act, and its continued assaults on reproductive rights.

On the economy, however, there’s a fair amount of bad news for the president. The public’s view of economic news has become more negative since the last survey, with 37 percent saying they’ve heard mostly bad news, up from 24 percent in April. Public views of economic performance are more positive than they were last fall, but this is a bad sign for Obama, whose reelection bid depends largely on public assessment of the economy.

If this survey says anything–-besides the fact that the race is a toss-up–-it’s that the Obama team should not move away from its current avenues of attack. Bain Capital has not harmed Obama’s message (in fact, swing voters are receptive to populist rhetoric), and there’s a lot to gain in hammering the GOP for a “war on women.” For pessimistic liberals, this is a sign that the Obama campaign is in better shape than it looks. For confident conservatives, it’s evidence that this race will be much tougher than they expect.


I suspect that higher income voters understand the gist of what President Obama was trying to argue in relation to private equity, and thus are more driven by their own economic philosophies and historic party preferences than with the conceit that the President is a socialist at war with capitalism.

Right now Romney is attempting to do two things: Blame his own dismal jobs record as governor on his predecessor, while stating that Obama has no right to blame the present dismal jobs record on Bush. It will be interesting to see if he succeeds in selling both arguments. Given the sad state of the nation's media, he has a genuine chance.

I sense that the public recognizes that the Bush Administration's policies continue to play a big role in the present economy, but the public is always ready for a President who they believe can "fix" things. If Obama can sell the idea that, hard as things have been, we're on the right track... he's half way there. If he can sell the idea that Romney will take us back to the catastrophe that was G.W. Bush, he'll win. If Romney looks as competent as Obama on economic matters, as long as the economy keeps sputtering he has a fighting chance. If Romney sells the public on the idea that he's a genius who truly can fix the economy, Obama's in real trouble. (Not that any of that isn't pretty obvious.)

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