Resurgent Republic, the conservative polling and research group, just conducted a conference call to discuss four focus groups, two in Cleveland and two in Richmond. These were made up of voters who all went for President Obama in 2008 but say they are undecided now.
The complete reports suggest several hurdles for Mitt Romney. From Cleveland (one male and one female focus group), these were the top take-aways:
Blue-collar voters in Ohio hold a negative outlook regarding the national economy, but express general optimism about the future . . .
Yet the economic pain felt by blue-collar workers during the recession is still very real today. . .
When considering President Obama’s job performance, blue-collar voters give the president credit for trying to make things better, but concerns remain about his health care law. . . .
Voters in both groups plan to watch at least part of the upcoming debates and hope to see an unfiltered view of both candidates.
Resurgent Republic also reports that the most recent memorable event is Romney’s “47 percent” remark, with women registering a number of negative impressions. Men were not as troubled.
Interestingly, focus group director Ed Goeas explained that many of the blue-collar workers don’t even consider themselves to be middle-class any more, feeling like they have slipped behind. (Appealing to the “middle class” may therefore be missing these voters.) While they think the economy is rotten, they remain optimistic about the future. They tend to give Obama the benefit of the doubt but have trouble pointing to any economic success other than the auto bailout.
In Richmond, two groups of women reflected similar views. They view the economy negatively. They like the Romney ad intended to respond to the 47 percent remark (in which he looks straight in the camera). They want to hear specifics from Romney, and they show quite a bit of goodwill toward the president.
Linda DiVall, who ran these two focus groups, made clear that Romney is facing opposition on “women’s issues.” The women view the economy negatively, but “Obama escapes responsibility” in these women voters’ eyes. They, too, remain concerned about health care. In response to my question about what would help Romney the most with these voters (Tie Obama to the economy? Spell out his own view?), she said that Romney “has not defined his plan for the future.” She also counseled him to personalize the message, talking about a federal debt of $50,000 per person rather than the aggregate number of $16 trillion.
Now, in one sense you can say these are the voters who are the hardest sell for Romney, the least likely to admit error in voting for Obama the first time. However, it is clear that Romney hasn’t accomplished any of his three main goals with them: conveying that he cares about regular voters; holding Obama responsible for the economic mess; and laying out a clear vision for what he wants to do in the future. It’s almost as if the entire ad budget was wasted (not to mention his convention speech).
Former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour had maybe the most insightful remark when he said that Obama wins when the focus is on gaffes, polls and the campaign. Romney wins when he can explain facts like the cost of health care has gone up $3,000 or that $2,500 of the loss in median household income occurred during the “recovery.” He said, if he were Romney, he’d work on getting that sort of information out in front of voters. (One could cynically conclude that the media’s obsessive focus on campaign tactics and gaffes meshes perfectly with Obama’s interests.)
The good news, however, is three-fold.
First, these voters are willing to hear from Romney directly. That makes it important for him to connect with voters in the debate, and perhaps to speak more frequently to voters directly in a positive way in his ads.
Second, they know things are rotten now, but they haven’t given up. That suggests a Reagan-esque positive message that we can be prosperous and strong once again would be well received.
And finally, voters want something concrete. Romney has an agenda (on taxes, the debt, energy, small business), while Obama offers more of the same. That’s a message that could, it seems resonate with voters.
Once again, however, Romney and his running mate need to push that message through the media din.