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Skip the Ryan Hype: Romney’s Campaign Is In Makeover Mode

Exaggerated claims of a 'Ryan Effect' mask a campaign in crisis.
 
 
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Can we stop fretting for a moment about how scary Republican Paul Ryan would be as vice president (very) to note that the Romney campaign had been flailing in recent weeks, forcing Mitt to name his veep early to divert attention, and ever since, GOP media outlets have been feverishly propagandizing Ryan as a gamechanger.

There has been all kinds of predictable hyperventilating, like this fawning Daily Beast piece saying that Ryan is the first “member of Generation X” to be on a national ticket. People of a certain age—older than Gen Xers—might remember the same thing was once said about Bill Clinton’s pick of Al Gore (who once was young and thin).

The Right has been seizing upon every tidbit of arguable information not only to make Ryan into a political superhero, but also to say that he is attracting support of the one constituency that was truly excited by Obama in 2008—young people ages 18-29. That assertion was bouyed by a national poll done by John Zobgy after the announcement, where for the first time Romney had more than 40 percent of this key demographic.

The Right was all abuzz about a so-called “Ryan effect,” especially among young voters. When asked by the right-wing Washington Examiner, where Zogby’s analyses run as a regular feature, he speculated, saying, “more younger voters are becoming libertarian, distrustful of current elected officials and worried that they are going to get stuck with the nation’s looming fiscal bill.”

That reply—and Zogby’s history of finding things in polls that both please and displease Ds and Rs—has raised eyebrows in progressive circles. Even some conservatives cautiously embraced the claim, saying, “Almost one third of voters in this age group have no idea what Ryan’s ideas are, so they can hardly be excited about how new they are.” 

AlterNet spoke to Zogby on Thursday. He said his poll was predictably being used by the GOP and its allies to reinforce their partisan messaging; that it was a single  poll—a snapshot in time and not yet a trend -- but that yes, as everyone knows, young voters, like many segments of Obama’s winning coalition, feel differently in 2012.  

We need to remember how and why polls are useful—as well as propaganda tools. But the bigger picture that is getting lost in the rapid reactions and to-and-fro over Ryan is that the Romney campaign is now handling its first big crisis. It was losing. It is going through a political makeover. And right-wing media is playing its part to cover up.   

“In terms of young people, that was not anything that I would have led with—because my rule is not to lead with subgroups,” Zogby said, explaining what the weekend poll found and didn’t find. “You know, 1,117 voters were polled. The number of young people was in the vicinity of 200. You have a margin of error of around 6 percent there. However, it [the Romney bump] certainly was noticeable and worthy of discussion, only because we have seen Obama’s numbers going up and down among young voters. But prior to this, I’ve never seen Romney’s numbers go above 31 or 32 percent. He’s normally in the 20s… Is it an anomaly? I don’t know. One poll doesn’t make a trend. But like the old child’s game 'made-you-look,' it made me look. Frankly, both sides should look.”

Zogby has been one of the few pollsters tracking young people in 2012. He says he is personally a Democrat, but professionally fiercely independent—which makes him a target of partisan sniping from both sides depending what his polls point out.

“Young voters have plenty of reasons to fear social conservatives,” he said. “But there’s a lot of disaffection and disenchantment, and could it be—these are all questions—could it be that there are enough of them who are anti-statist, anti-government, in debt up to their eyeballs? Who, instead of toying around with [Libertarian and pro-pot presidential candidate] Gary Johnson, or not voting, in this first instance, said, ‘Alright, this young man (Ryan) looks interesting?’ I don’t know. I can’t tell from the poll.”

Zogby said he did not “disaggregate” or further break down such a small sample to determine if this bump was Ron Paul supporters, more men than women, or some other cohort or factor.

“Look, it was a brief, very brief telephone call,” he said of the poll that is now being overly hyped by the Right. “It wasn’t the big ask—20, 30, 40 questions and all sorts of drilling down—so, [it was] hunches and hunches alone. This is a growing number of anti-statist and libertarian-leaning young people, who just don’t trust government. There is a group of young people who are having a very hard time getting started in life, and are bitter. Or at least, disenchanted.”

Zogby also was clear about reading too much into any poll—including this one.

“I have been doing this a long time. One poll is not a trend,” he said. “In fact, I said this to all of the conservatives that called as well… If I see a second poll showing Romney in the high 30s, low 40s, I’m going to say, hey, maybe there is something going on here. Let me start drilling down and find out. If my next poll comes out and shows him back in the 20s, well, there are anomalies [in polls]. We are very good at what we do, but we are not perfect, especially when it comes to subgroups.”        

All of this is to say that if we look beyond the 24-hour news cycle, then what’s been going on this week since the Ryan announcement is that the Romney camp is going through a makeover before the Republican National Convention, papered over by a propagandized puffery from the usual right-wing media suspects.

That is not to say that Paul Ryan’s selection as Romney’s veep is not disconcerting. It is, because it suggests that the most rabid aspects of the GOP Right are ascendant. But there is plenty of time for Democrats to remind young voters about his opposition to lowering college loan interest rates, just as there is time to remind older voters about what Ryan would do to cut retirement security programs, whether Medicare or Social Security.

Does Obama have to work harder to win back the confidence of his 2008 voters? Of course he does. And hopefully in doing so, he will be responsive to their expectations if reelected. But this week, the reality behind the news about Ryan is that Romney, the corporate takeover executive, is in the makeover mode for his campaign.

Think about it; if there wasn’t a crisis in Romney’s campaign, why would the Right’s media outlets be going overboard over Ryan?

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's retirement crisis, the low-wage economy, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).

 
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