“It’s all about you don’t spend more than you make,” said Dennis Miller, 62, a retired educator and undecided voter in Loveland, Colo. On the deficit, “Romney has my support because he has more of a business background and understands budgets and understands business, and I trust his instinct in that area more than I do Obama’s.”
But now Romney’s advantage is slipping. In the most recent Post-ABC poll, conducted after the conventions, the difference on trust to handle the deficit narrowed to 47 percent for Romney and 44 percent for Obama, within the poll’s margin of error. A CNN poll conducted during the convention had a similar finding.
Several factors seem to be behind Romney’s losing ground. Democrats have lampooned him for policies they say would raise costs for seniors seeking health care. And they say that he hasn’t been forthright about how his proposal to cut tax rates for the wealthy would either require higher tax revenue from the middle class or add to the deficit.
Analyses by nonpartisan groups such as the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Tax Policy Center have bolstered the claims.
“I don’t think he has taken seriously the challenges that the country faces in figuring what he wants to do. He thinks he can be all things to all people,” said James Kvaal, the Obama campaign’s policy director. “He thinks he can simultaneously appeal to people who want a tax cut and appeal to people who are budget hawks.”
Romney has said he would reduce tax rates to spur economic growth and completely make up for the lost revenue by eliminating deductions. He has repeatedly refused, however, to list which deductions he would strike, leaving many analysts to say that what he proposes is a mathematical stretch, if not an impossibility.
Romney also has faced criticism from leading lights of the Republican Party and prominent conservative publications such as the Wall Street Journal editorial page for his policy vagueness.
“The assertion that you are more competent than President Obama strikes many people as merely that — an assertion. It would be supported by your speaking in more detail about a range of financial issues,” conservative commenator Peter Hansen wrote last week in the Weekly Standard.
Alan D. Viard, an economist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said Romney has muddied his message in recent weeks. Romney has proposed overhauling the program to offer vouchers to seniors to buy health insurance on the open market in order to save costs, a proposal Obama has said would put a bigger burden on seniors.
But Romney shot back, saying that to pass Obama’s health insurance law in 2010, the president cut $700 billion in future Medicare spending. Romney pledged to restore it.
“To see a Republican ticket advocating increasing the deficit by increasing spending on an entitlement is not something you want to see,” Viard said. “Medicare is popular. The debate in the campaign over Medicare has almost changed over who will spend the most money.”