It’s good to see that conservative commentators are focusing on the possibility that the basic assumptions underlying Mitt Romney’s entire campaign strategy — that the bad economy alone all but guarantees that Obama is a certain loser — may be flawed. Here’s Bill Kristol:
“If this election’s just about the last four years, that’s a muddy verdict. Bush was president during the financial meltdown. The Obama team has turned that around pretty well. The Clinton speech at the convention was very important in that way. How horrible was it four years ago? He’s got to make it a referendum on the choice about the next four years.”
Like Steve Benen and Josh Marshall, I agree that Kristol is undercutting Romney’s whole strategic rationale here. But I’d add that this needn’t be purely speculative. A great deal of data in the internals of much of the polling we have bear out that Kristol is probably right. To recap:
* Eight recent national polls, and several polls in the key swing states, show that Obama has now pulled into a tie with Romney on handling the economy. This wipes out Romney’s longtime advantage on the issue and maks it clear voters no longer grant Romney the benefit of the doubt as the alternative vehicle for disappointment in Obama’s economic performance. The economy alone isn’t enough to drive them to Romney.
* National Journal’s recent poll found that a solid majority of people who have not seen their own economic lot improve still prefer Obama, because they believe Obama has made the country overall better off. These are the folks who are supposed to answer Romney’s “are you better off” question with a resounding No, and then pick Romney. But many are answering the question that way and are not picking Romney. This suggests people are simply not using this question to determine their choice in the numbers Romney needs.
* A recent Fox News poll found that only 36 percent of voters grade Obama a total failure on the economy, while far more give him mixed or even positive marks. And 50 percent of likely voters said an Obama victory would make them feel that “the country’s improving and I look forward to another four years.” As Nate Cohn points out, Romney’s strategy “depended on voters resolving to dismiss the president on the grounds that his economic performance is a resounding failure, but voters appear to be drawing a different conclusion.”
* The political science also bears out the idea that voters are taking a different view than the one Romney wants them to take.
Despite all this, the Romney camp is sticking with its strategic thinking, according to Mark Halperin:
The unrattled strategists in Boston continue to profess a belief that, in the end, the conditions of the last four years, and the pubic sentiment that the President would continue to govern as a liberal, are enough to cause a surge on Election Day that is not being fully picked up in the polling.
If Romney does lose — which is looking more likely, but is anything but a certainty — I’ll be very interested to see the post-election reporting detailing how Romney and his team arrived at their driving set of assumptions and whether Camp Romney ever questioned them.
UPDATE: Here’s one more: A recent Post/ABC News poll found that while a huge majority answer the “are you better off question” by saying they are the same or worse off, only 22 percent of those people blame Obama a good deal for the fact that their lot hasn’t improved. Twenty-six percent blame him “some.” Meanwhile, 49 percent of them blame Obama only a little or not at all.