At first glance, today’s Post/ABC News poll would seem to lend support to the conventional wisdom: A bad economy means the election will be nothing more than a referendum on the incumbent — period, full stop. But dig a little deeper and it looks as if voters may be seeing things in more nuanced terms.
The poll finds Barack Obama and Mitt Romney tied at 47-47 among registered voters. Obama’s approval is upside down at 47-49, and it’s even worse on the economy, 44-54. The right track/wrong track numbers are awful, at 33-63. Romney leads on which candidate is more trusted to handle the economy, 49-45, which suggests voters’ dissatisfaction with Obama’s performance have left them more than open to Romney as an alternative.
But when people are asked to compare the two more extensively, the picture shifts.
Obama leads on who understands the economic problems people are having, 51-40. Obama leads on who is more likely to stand up for what he believes in, 52-36. Obama leads on who has presented a clearer plan for dealing with the economy situation, 47-35.
And voters appear to narrowly side with Obama’s economic vision: 48 percent say the federal government should spend money to encourage job creation, versus 45 percent who say we should hold down the deficit.
And this is also key: A majority say the things Obama would do in a second term are more important than what he’s already done, 51-33. Perhaps voters will evaluate the candidates comparatively — in part based on who they are, what they stand for and what they would actually do for the next four years — rather than simply cast their vote as a referendum on the status quo or on Obama’s first term. Public opinion is in flux and closely divided, and we still don’t know which way undecideds will break in terms of how they view this race.
* Obama winning the argument over taxes? A new National Journal poll finds that 60 percent think extending the Bush tax cuts for those under $250,000 (Obama’s position) is very important, versus only 40 percent who think extending all the cuts is very important (the GOP position).
Also: 70 percent think it’s very important that Congress agree on new federal spending to create jobs and prevent layoffs — which dovetails with the Post finding above.
* Dems planning tax offensive: The above finding may help explain why Democrats are planning to hold votes on several items designed to throw Romney on the defensive: Obama’s plan to create tax credits for companies who move jobs back to America, and his plan to extend the middle class tax cuts. For once, Dems are proceeding from the assumption that they are winning the public argument over taxes.
* Obama takes heat from left over outsourcing: Complicating Obama’s message on Romney and outsourcing is the fact that critics on the left still feel Obama has not done enough to stanch outsourcing himself during his first term.
* Are Bain attacks working? Another important finding from the Post poll: A larger percentage thinks Romney did more as a corporate invester to cut jobs (40 percent) than to create them (36 percent). That suggests a plurality is rejeccting Romney’s argument that his Bain years show he was a “job creator.”
However, 24 percent have no opinion, and 50 percent say Romney’s business background is “not a major factor” in evaluating him, suggesting again that Dems have lots more work to do in defining Romney’s Bain years and their relevance to the current campaign.
* Why isn’t Romney fighting back against Bain attacks? Charlie Cook on how Romney is failing to counter the Bain onslaught, on how this has put Romney in serious danger of being defined by his opponents before he does it himself, and on how this could cost him the election.
ICYMI: My previous take on Romney ceding the Bain turf is here.
* Support for health law rising: One other key Post finding: In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, voters are exactly split on whether they support the Affordable Care Act, 47-47. That’s a sizable swing from April, when Americans approved of it 39-53.
Also: While opinion tilts narrowly against the ruling, only 33 percent support repealing the whole law, which is Mitt Romney’s position and will get a vote in the House this week. Thirty percent support repealing unspecified parts of it — which could reflect dislike of the mandate.
* Right wing pours $10 million into Ohio Senate race: Crossroads GPS is pouring $1 million more into ads targeting Senator Sherrod Brown, with more millions on tap. Brown spokesman Justin Barasky tells me this brings the amount of outside cash conservative groups have spent on ousting Brown to over $10 million — perhaps more than any other Senate race — allowing challenger Josh Mandel to remain competitive despite missteps.
As I noted here recently, Brown is an unexpected top target for outside money, because both sides think this battle could end up being much closer than polls suggest, as it’s unfolding in a true battleground state that will likely be pivotal in the presidential race.
* GOP war on voting a “crime”? Eugene Robinson, on the “unconscionable crime” that the GOP war on voting entails:
In a previous column, I wrote that voter ID was a solution in search of a problem. I was wrong: The problem seems to be that too many of the wrong kind of voters — low-income, urban, African American, Hispanic — are showing up at the polls. Republican candidates have been vowing to “take back” the country. Now we know how.
* And Chuck Grassley’s intriguing Fast and Furious quote: Senator Grassley opines that the media needs to do a better job of breaking open the Fast and Furious story “if this is going to get solved before the election.” That timing, apparently, is of paramount importance!