US campaign diary: polling evidence grows that Mitt Romney is failing to cut through

by Nikhil Dyundi

The headline polls might still be showing a virtual tie between president Obama and Mitt Romney, but underneath the surface there is evidence that the Republicans are failing to make the break through that all opposition’s need to oust an incumbent.

It is certainly the case that the US public is barely engaged with the general election. The news is all about Isaac while the monthly struggle to make the paycheck stretch is vastly more important for most Americans than anything the politicians have to say.

But as the Republican convention starts, or not, depending on where Isaac is headed, a new poll from Pew shows that for the first time this century less than half of voters are interested in watching the new Republican presidential candidate’s convention speech.

44% expressed an interest in seeing Romney’s big speech, compared to 52% for McCain in 2008 and 53% for Bush in 2000.

In comparison, 51% of voters are interested in Obama’s acceptance speech. This is down from 58% in 2008, but still crosses the magic 50% threshold.

The failure to generate public anticipation and interest for Romney is a sign of how the campaign has run away from him. President Obama should be extremely vulnerable given the economic situation, but the poll is a powerful indicator that the Republicans have failed to establish Romney as an alternative president-in-waiting.

More worrying for Romney is that while most people are not interested in his speech, they are keen to learn more about the GOP platform: 52% said they were interested to know more about the platform.

Convention platforms, particularly for the GOP, are detailed, lugubrious affairs. The 2008 platform rambled on for 55 pages tackling every last arcane topic of concern to the fruit loops that populate the Republican fringe.

This year, for example there is a section on a return to the gold standard. For some reason the GOP are obsessed with the gold standard, in 1980 the platform forced Reagan to hold a commission on returning to the gold standard when he became president, which predictably, reported back in the negative.

Then there is the re-affirmation of the GOP’s theological opposition to a woman’s right to choose with a commitment to ban abortion, even in cases of rape or incest. The same policy that Todd Akin was articulating when he got himself into trouble a couple of weeks ago.

And let’s not forget the downright bizarre. One of this year’s best examples is a specific section that calls for Washington D.C. city council to expand gun rights.

This particular lunacy typifies the mixture of trivial yet terrifying that is included in Republican convention platforms.

It was included at the behest of Tony Perkins, who recently blamed President Obama and the Southern Poverty Law Center for a shooting at the Washington headquarters of his organisation, the Family Research Council. That people like Perkins can rewrite the party platform tells us all we need to know about where the GOP is politically,

For Mitt Romney, who is trying to show himself to be a centrist to the general public, the Republican convention platform is the last piece of literature that voters should be reading.

John Boehner, House speaker and man responsible for corralling the tea party crazies that now dominate the Republicans in the House of Representatives, even went so far as to suggest the platform be restricted to one page.

The combination of Romney’s lack of cut through with the extremism in the Republican platform could be toxic for his chances.

Polls don’t traditionally move until a few weeks out from the November polling day but experience suggests August is where candidates are often framed for the public. Just ask John Kerry.

If and when Romney loses, his lousy August with Todd Akin, hurricane Isaac and a howling mad convention platform, will be seen as pivotal.

Although it’s too early to be certain, the Pew poll is a grim sign for Romney of where his chances are headed.

Nikhil Dyundi is a registered Democrat and a political consultant

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One Response to “US campaign diary: polling evidence grows that Mitt Romney is failing to cut through”

  1. Jonathan Todd says:

    I always find Nikhil convincing on the ebb and flow of the race, thank you.

    But what I find more perplexing is a more structural question about American politics: Why did the Republicans react to the election of a centrist president in 2008 by so vehemently insisting that they would run to the right? Doesn’t their behaviour exhibit a refusal to accept that 2008 has any lessons for them? What exactly is driving their inexorable rightward drift?

    I know that it is complicated and that there are all kinds of factor in play, but their actions seem so far away from what I would see as politically sensible that I can be nothing other than vexed by it. Maybe Americans really do come from Mars, and Europeans Venus.

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