8 takeaways from the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll

October 22, 2012

The latest NBC-Wall Street Journal poll -- released Sunday -- has President Obama and Mitt Romney tied at 47 percent among likely voters, an improvement for the former Massachusetts governor from three weeks ago.


That the national head-to-head is tied, however, isn't huge news, as plenty of recent data has shown a Romney bump beginning around the first presidential debate that has transformed the race into a dead heat -- at least nationally.

Inside the NBC-WSJ poll, however, there are all sorts of fascinating findings about the electorate and what people think of the choice before them in 15 days time. We broke out 8 of the data points we were most struck by below. You can peruse the entire poll yourself here. (And stay tuned for a look at what the NBC-WSJ poll tells us about Romney's alleged woman problem later today in this space.)

1. Elections have consequence: Fifty-five percent of those sampled said that who won the election on Nov. 6 would make a "great deal of difference" in the lives of their families, while just 9 percent said the outcome would make "very little" difference. The "great deal" number is higher than at this time in 2004 (45 percent said who won would make a major difference) and dwarfs those who said the same in 1996 (21 percent). The message in the numbers is simple: people are under no illusion that Obama and Romney offer vastly different approaches to the next four years and believe that the choice that is made will have major consequences in their lives.

2. No wave building: After three straight wave elections -- 2006, 2008 and 2010 -- there appears to be little chance of a major upheaval in the House this time around. Forty-four percent said their Member deserved to be re-elected while 41 percent said it was time to give someone else a chance. That's the first time the "re-elect my member" number has been higher than the "someone else" number in NBC-WSJ polling since October 2004.

3. Polarization, thy name is 2012: Remember those quaint times when people  -- even some partisans! -- seemed to think that divided government might be the best possible approach? Not anymore. Asked their preferred outcome of the 2012 election, 44 percent said they wanted a Democratic president and Democratic-controlled Congress while 41 percent said they wanted a Republican president and GOP Congress. A minuscule 8 percent said they wanted Romney as president and a Democratic-led Congress (3 percent) or a second Obama term with a Republican-led Congress (5 percent). 

4. The Romney uncertainty gap: We wrote in our Monday newspaper column that Romney still faces doubts among a fair number of voters about whether he can do the job -- particularly as it relates to foreign affairs. In the NBC-WSJ poll, one in five voters (21 percent) described themselves as "uncertain and wondering" about whether Romney would do a good job as president -- eight points higher than said the same about Obama.  That gap is actually smaller than the one the last two challengers to sitting presidents faced; both John Kerry in 2004 and Bob Dole in 1996 had an 11-point higher uncertainty number than the incumbent they were trying to unseat. Both lost.

5. The debates have been a draw: Roughly half of the NBC-WSJ sample (47 percent) said the two presidential debates had made no difference in how they would vote, and roughly the same number said they made them more likely to back Romney (27 percent) and Obama (24 percent). Need more evidence that debates may be much ado about nothing? In 2004, roughly one in three voters said the debates made them more likely to back Kerry, while just 13 percent said the same of Bush. And we know how that one turned out.

6. Stretching the truth? Both candidates do it: Four in 10 voters said that both Obama and Romney are "embellishing and misstating facts," while 25 percent said the former Massachusetts governor was the bigger truth-stretcher and 21 percent said the incumbent took more liberties with the truth. That finding will be a bit of sour medicine for many Democrats who have insisted that, in each of the three debates (two presidential, one vice presidential), Republicans simply lied their way through the proceedings. The public -- or at least a plurality of it -- thinks both sides have done it.

7. Romney doesn't need to be more specific: The Obama attacks on Romney -- both in the debates and more broadly -- have centered on the idea that the Republican nominee simply won't level with people about what specifically he would do if elected. But, there's little evidence that voters agree with that notion, as nearly six in 10 (57 percent) said that Romney and running mate Paul Ryan "have a message and you know what they would do if elected." That's roughly equivalent to the 61 percent of voters who said the same about Obama and Vice President Biden.

8. Obama's lack of a mandate: Even if Obama manages to win a second term on Nov. 6, the NBC-WSJ poll suggests that people don't want more of what they got over the last four years. Sixty-two percent of those polled said Obama should make "major" changes in a second term, while 31 percent said he should make "minor" modifications and 4 percent said the second Obama term should be like the first one. That more than six in 10 voters would want major change in a second Obama term also makes clear why the incumbent finds himself in such a tough race at the moment.

Iran report sparks debate: The New York Times reported Sunday that the U.S. government  has agreed in principal to one-on-one talks with Iran over its nuclear program, and the report quickly became a flashpoint in the national political dialogue.

“I think the Iranians are trying to take advantage of our election cycle to continue to talk,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.” Graham added: "The time for talking is over."

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), meanwhile, suggested that the news represented progress and the effectiveness of the current sanctions.

“This month of October, the currency in Iran has declined 40 percent in value. There is unrest in the streets of Tehran, and the leaders in Iran are feeling it. That’s exactly what we wanted the sanctions program to do,” Durbin said. 

Expect to hear plenty about this at tonight's debate.

Akin compares McCaskill to a dog: Todd Akin did it again.

The Missouri GOP Senate candidate, who saw his chances of victory plummet and his party abandon him after his comment about "legitimate rape" rarely causing pregnancy, has now compared his opponent, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), to a dog.

"So she goes to Washington, D.C. -- and it’s a little bit like one of those dogs, you know, ‘fetch’ -- she goes to Washington, D.C., and gets all of these taxes and red tape and bureaucracy and executive orders and agencies and she brings all of this stuff and dumps it on us in Missouri," Akin said at a fundraiser Saturday night.

Akin is the second male Senate candidate to say something off-color about a woman in recent days; in Arizona, Democratic Senate candidate Richard Carmona apologized after joking that his male debate moderator was "prettier" than Candy Crowley.

Fixbits:

A new CBS News/Quinnipiac University poll in Ohio shows Obama maintains a slight lead, but it has shrunk. He leads Romney 50 percent to 45 percent.

Obama is up with a new ad highlighting differences between himself and Romney over the wars in Iraq and Afghaninstan.

Romney gets a very big endorsement from the Columbus Dispatch.

More than half of Americans say the national debt has had a "major impact" on their family's financial situation, according to a new poll from the conservative-leaning group Public Notice.

Clear Channel is taking down billboards in urban areas of Wisconsin and Ohio that warned residents that "Voter fraud is a felony." The billboards came from an anonymous group and were seen by some as an effort to suppress the vote in heavily Democratic areas.

The GOP super PAC American Crossroads raised $11.7 million in September.

Former Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern died Sunday. He was 90. 

Romney appears in a new ad for Indiana GOP Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, who finds himself in a closer-than-expected race.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) uses the word "socialism" to describe Elizabeth Warren. Bloomberg is backing Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.).

The Billings Gazette endorses Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.).

The GOP group YT Network is up with a new ad hitting Rep. Mark Critz (D-Pa.) by using Obama's "cling to guns and religion" comments from the 2008 campaign.

Must-reads:

"Romney’s situation ahead of debate recalls his race for governor" -- Ned Martel, Washington Post

"Monday’s Debate Puts Focus on Foreign Policy Clashes" -- David E. Sanger, New York Times

"In close presidential race, foreign-policy debate likely to prove pivotal" -- Chris Cillizza, Washington Post

"Top 10 blown calls of the 2012 election" -- Maggie Haberman, Politico

"Obama’s record: Environmental agenda pushes sweeping attack on air pollution" -- Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post

"Wall St. May Not Cheer, but Obama’s Been Good for Stocks" -- Jeff Sommer, New York Times

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Chris Cillizza | October 21, 2012