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Is Romney's business experience still an asset?

at 01:16 PM ET, 07/16/2012

Mitt Romney's business experience is his strongest argument to voters that he has the skills to boost job creation and right America's economic ship. Or is it?

Romney's business record has been mauled by an ad blitz criticizing his work at Bain Capital and last week's barbs surrounding when he actually left the firm. Polls indicate that Romney's business experience was widely seen as a positive attribute early this year, but has taken a hit in swing states since attacks hit the airwaves. 

In May, Americans in states classified as "toss-ups" by The Fix split about evenly on whether Romney's work "buying and restructuring companies before he went into politics" was a major reason to support or oppose him. But by July, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that the issue was a net negative by a 32 to 16 percent margin.* This contrasts with non-toss-up states, where about as many saw it as a positive and negative in both months.

A June NBC/Wall Street Journal poll also found Romney's business record drawing especially negative views in a broader swath of swing states, with 33 percent saying they feel “more negative” vs. 18 percent “more positive” toward Romney given what they’ve heard about his work “buying, restructuring and selling companies.” Nationally, the split was 23 percent positive to 28 negative on Romney's work. 

But framing matters, and Romney's business background in general is seen much more positively than the nitty gritty of his work at Bain. 

In a February Post-ABC poll, four times as many Americans said “Romney's business experience” — in general — was a major reason to support rather than oppose him, 48 to 12 percent. And a May NBC/WSJ poll found majorities saying his business experience was an “advantage” for him in improving the economy and job conditions, reducing the deficit and negotiating trade agreements. It was also a net positive in protecting worker's rights, ensuring corporations pay their taxes and ensuring companies live up to environmental standards. 

Together, polling hints that if Romney is to cap his résumé with business experience this fall, he won't win voters over touting his ingenuity at buying and selling companies for a profit. Rather, he may need to help voters connect the dots between his business experience and how he would improve the economy in general.

*Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Romney's work buying and restructuring companies was a net negative by 32 to 20 percent in our July poll. The margin is actually 32 to 16 percent. We regret the error.

 
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