The New York Times/CBS poll offers some important insight about how the economy is affecting the election. Almost all of the news is bad for President Obama.
Americans have almost always been optimistic, yet this poll shows a lot of pessimism shaping voters' beliefs about the future.
A few key findings include: A slightly larger share of voters said they would do worse economically if the president is reelected; 40% of parents say they have had to alter expectations for the type of college they can afford; 40% of Americans say they are falling behind financially; 60% say the country is on the wrong track; and half of all voters say that the future of the next generation will be worse. Americans saying the future that we have prepared for our kids will be worse? Wow!
A serious challenge for the Romney campaign will be how to stay out of the way while Obama loses. Romney has his own problems, but they mostly have to do with perceptions of him as a person; voters certainly don't blame him for the problems we face today. Romney has low favorables, there is little enthusiasm for him, people tend to think he only says what people want to hear, and worse, only one in seven voters says he cares a lot about the needs and problems of people like them. But I wouldn't trade Romney's problems for Obama's problems.
For the purpose of running a campaign, it is easier to generally reassure voters about your concern than it is to convince them they are wrong about what they have just observed for themselves regarding the incumbent's performance for the last 3 1/2 years. A campaign message of "things aren't as bad as they look" is a tough sell. And it will be hard to convince people that they should stick with their current misery and sign up for a bleak future.
Obama needs to get mean with Romney and think up new ways to pledge that he will transfer more from the evil few to the needy many. Voters must also be convinced by Obama that a government handout is their most reliable option.
At least for the next few weeks, Romney needs to hide, run a soft, mistake-free campaign and leave the dirty work to surrogates. An artful attack dog in a prominent campaign role would help and it should be part of the qualifications considered for an eventual vice presidential candidate. A classic good cop-bad cop routine for the GOP ticket makes sense.
It is interesting how far Obama is from the 2008 pledge of hope and change. His best chance lies in voters believing their fear of the future is justified and government dependency is their best option.