Pew Research asks Americans if they want to know more about Mitt Romney’s resume, tax returns, and identity, and comes back with this:
When it comes to specific details of Romney’s background and experience, 41% of voters say they would like to learn more about Romney’s record as governor, 36% would like to learn more about his tax returns, while 35% want to know more about his record as chief executive of Bain Capital. Far fewer want to hear more about Romney’s wealth (21%), his family and upbringing (19%) or his religious beliefs (16%).
Also, 37 percent of independents want to know more about the Bain years, and 35 percent of indys want to know more about his tax returns.
The polling has been mixed as to whether the Bain attacks are “working.” A recent Pew poll found a big swing in Obama's direction on the economy. But today’s Gallup poll finds that 63 percent say Romney’s business background would lead him to make good decisions, and Romney holds an edge on the economy, 51-41.
What we don’t know now: Does Romney’s advantage on the economy mainly reflect dissatisfaction with the state of the economy and with Obama’s performance, which benefits Romney as a generic alternative? Or are voters genuinely evaluating the choice between the two and affirmatively deciding Romney’s ideas and background make him more likely to improve things? Andrew Sullivan theorizes, rightly I think, that the bad economy alone is insulating Romney from serious damage from the Bain attacks.
But the strategy of attacking Romney on Bain and tax returns is a long term one. We won’t know for some time whether it is working, because it’s all about building a frame to influence the way undecided voters view the election when they start to make up their minds. It’s also about laying the groundwork to get voters to appreciate the true priorities that are driving Romney’s support for an agenda that includes both deep tax cuts for the rich and Paul Ryan’s plan to quasi-voucherize Medicare. Only when voters actually begin to evaluate the choice they face — when it comes to character, biography, experience, and policy — will we know whether this strategy worked.
The Pew numbers do suggest that the Dem attacks may have awakened the curiosity of a sizable chunk of the electorate about things that Romney has declared a distraction (the tax returns) or an unadulterated positive (his business background). Time will tell how important voters will deem these factors in the end, but for now, there seems to be some room for Dems to fill in the story on their own terms.
UPDATE: The LA Times draws a harsher conclusion from these numbers than I did: “Obama making headway with effort to plant doubts about Romney.”