Despite All the Money and Mud-Flinging, Polls Show Obama and Romney Neck and Neck
Apart from politics junkies and people with highly developed ideologies, does anybody really care about all the stuff the campaigns put out between the end of the primaries and the conventions? The new New York Times/CBS poll suggests that, to most voters, it's mostly just noise:
The new poll shows that the race remains essentially tied, notwithstanding all of the Washington chatter suggesting that Mr. Romney's campaign has seemed off-kilter amid attacks on his tenure at Bain Capital and his unwillingness to release more of his tax returns. Forty-five percent say they would vote for Mr. Romney if the election were held now and 43 percent say they would vote for Mr. Obama.
When undecided voters who lean toward a particular candidate are included, Mr. Romney has 47 percent to Mr. Obama’s 46 percent.
I said from the beginning that I didn't think Bain-Departure-Date-Gate, in and of itself, was going to sway very many voters -- but now it looks as if none of the attacks on Romney are doing more than sustaining an equilibrium. Similarly, the Romney attacks on Obama don't seem to be having much effect.
What might be causing a slight drift to Romney is -- yeah, who'd have guessed this? -- the economy:
Declining confidence in the nation's economic prospects appears to be the most powerful force influencing voters as the presidential election gears up, undercutting key areas of support for President Obama and helping give his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, an advantage on the question of who would better handle the nation's economic challenges....
... the poll showed a significant shift in opinion about Mr. Obama's handling of the economy, with 39 percent now saying they approved and 55 percent saying they disapproved.
In the Times/CBS poll in April, when the economy seemed to have momentum, 44 percent approved and 48 percent disapproved.
The Obama campaign's attempts to paint Romney as an unacceptable choice seems to have persuaded nearly enough voters for Obama to win, but not quite enough. The same for the Romney campaign's attempts to paint Obama as unacceptable. Those people are standing pat. But the people in the middle may be slowly drifting toward Romney because the economy just never seems to get better. Or it may be just a temporary flirtation with the notion of voting out the incumbent -- remember, John Kerry dominated the polls in July 2004.
This makes me even angrier than I already was about our electoral system. All that money, all that fund-raising, all that butt-kissing of fat cats to get fat checks -- and the money's spent on opposition research and focus groups and idiotic ads that get cranked out for months and months in the doldrum period after the conventions and it apparently all has no effect.
I know, I know: Obama is test-marketing messages for the fall campaign. He's defining Romney before Romney can define himself. And, yes, I want Romney defined as a guy with a balance sheet for a soul who thinks the lives of ordinary citizens are just data points. I also want him defined as the standard-bearer for a party that hates blacks, Hispanics, gays, poor people, and anyone who ever has non-marital sex. All that is true, and voters should understand it.
But the Obama campaign seems to have successfully defined Romney for a certain percentage of the electorate, just as Romney (building on a billion hours of broadcast right-wing propaganda) has defined Obama for another percentage -- and now there's hardly anybody left, and that remainder is paying no attention to all this noise. The remainder is just paying attention to the economy.
I wish we could have a six-week campaign, or at least a six-week general election campaign. Then I wish we could pick up the entire primary calendar and move it months and months forward, so there's little or no gap between the end of the primaries and the beginning of the general campaign. Why does this nonsense have to stretch on for two freaking years? It should be three months, tops. Our system is ridiculous.
AND: A big reason I'm not freaking out about Romney's lead is that a new Fox poll has Obama up by 4 and a new NPR poll has Obama up by 2. The race is still a tossup, with Obama maybe up by an eyelash.