The new Post/ABC News poll has asked a detailed series of questions designed to nail down how voters really view the economy and the Obama presidency. The results are fascinating, and confirm that the true undecided voters who will determine the outcome may have a far more nuanced view of the situation than the Romney camp hopes. In brief: Many voters who are unhappy about the economy don’t blame him for it or for their own economic problems. How is that possible? The answer may be crucial to understanding this election.
First, the toplines: Obama and Romney are in a dead heat among likely voters, 49-48 (Obama leads by six among registered voters).
Here’s the interesting part. On the economy, the poll asks the “are you better off” question, and finds that only 20 percent say they are better off; 47 percent say they are in “about the same shape” and 32 percent say they’re “not as well off.” Catastrophic for Obama, right?
Well, of the 79 percent who say “the same” or “worse,” only 22 percent of them blame Obama a good deal for the fact that their lot hasn’t improved. Twenty-six percent say they blame him “some.” And 49 percent of them blame Obama only a little or not at all.
The Post poll also finds that 53 percent disapprove of Obama’s handling of the economy. Of those voters, 83 percent say they blame Obama’s policies. But 13 percent say they think Obama has the right economic policies but that they need more time to work. That’s a nontrivial number in such a tight election.
In both these cases, those latter groups could include the very small number of true undecideds who — as I have been arguing here — may simply disapprove of the pace of the recovery without concluding Obama was a failure, as Romney argues. They may have downgraded their expectations of what a president can do to turn the economy around, and don’t necessarily accept that Romney has the answer. In fact, 57 percent of voters say the economy would be the same or worse if Romney had been president since 2009.
Indeed, in spite of disapproval of him on the economy, Obama holds big advantages on who can be trusted to help the middle class (53-38) and who best understands people’s economic problems (50-40).
The Real Clear Politics polling average has Obama leading by 3.1 points, but Romney can still win this race. If he doesn’t, the Romney theory that all he has to do is turn the race into a referendum on Obama’s economic performance may be why. The Romney camp may be underestimating the degree to which undecided voters are viewing this as a choice and as a result may be failing to detail his own alternative with the specificity voters want. And guess what: A whopping 63 percent say Romney has not detailed his policies sufficiently, versus 49 percent who say that about Obama.
* Obama erases Romney’s advantage on the economy: Relatedly, the poll finds that Obama now leads on who is more trusted to handle the economy, 47-45 (though that’s within the margin of error). If Obama can fight Romney to a draw on the economy, he has a chance to fight the election out on more favorable turf.
* Obama holds the advantage on key issues: Indeed, the poll shows that Obama holds leads, sometimes substantial ones, on a host of other fronts: Social issues, terrorism, international affairs, taxes, women’s issues, the middle class, understanding people’s economic problems, likeability, leadership strength.
* Romney keeps hoping for game changing moments: An important reminder from Jim Rutenberg and Jeff Zeleny:
Through the summer Mr. Romney’s aides had expressed hope that he would begin to establish a lead over Mr. Obama through three major events: the selection of his running mate, the party convention, and the coming presidential debates. His apparent failure to gain from the first two events puts that much onus on the third.
And don’t forget that trip to Europe, which was also supposed to be a game changer. It keeps getting forgotten, but the Romney camp had hoped he’d be leading by now.
* Pressure on Romney to get more specific: A great point from Steve Kornacki: If Romney keeps lagging behind Obama in the polls, Republicans may amp up the pressure on him to offer a more detailed alternative than he has thus far. This could make it tougher for hiim to continue with the strategy of obscuring the true nature of his ideological and policy differences with Obama.
* Sounding the alarm about a Romney loss: Michael Gerson makes it plain: The fundamentals of this race still favor Obama, and if Romney continues on his current course, he will likely lose.
Also: Charlie Cook on how the Romney camp’s theory of the race has led them astray.
* Will Obama outraise Romney in this election? Andy Kroll makes a strong case that all the conventional wisdom about Romney having a cash advantage will be wrong. Of course, Romney will benefit from massive amounts of outside money, but we still don’t know whether the unprecedented sums will cause a saturation effect that will backfire.
* Obama using national security as a cudgel against Romney: A good Buzzfeed take on the Obama campaign’s aggressive use of national security politics against Romney and Republicans, and what that says about how the Dems’ advantage on the issue is changing our politics. This, again, is a reminder of how absurd the 2012-1980 comparisons are; also, look for this to loom very large during the debates.
* And what Obama should say about war and taxes: Matt Miller has a smart piece urging Obama and Democrats to draw a tighter link between Romney’s call for still more tax cuts and the damage Bush’s wars continue to do to the deficit. As Miller says, swing voters will be very receptive to the argument that we should not be cutting taxes during a time of war. It’s a chance to revive memories of the fiscal recklessness of Bush’s adventurism abroad and to associate Romney with it.