Going into the conventions, I expected that both parties would receive a post-convention bounce, but that the Romney bounce would be larger. This, I thought would boost Romney from being a point or two behind Obama to being even or slightly ahead.
However, the polls show that Obama received the larger bounce and thus now leads by three or four points. Why did this happen?
Part of the explanation may reside in the more aggressive tone of the Democratic convention. The Republicans devoted considerable effort to claiming they are nice; the Democrats got on with the business at hand, which consisted mostly of pounding Romney.
But I think the central explanation for the Democrats’ success is the most obvious one — the electorate, by a small margin, seems to prefer what the Dems are selling.
At the purely substantive level, voters don’t appear to prefer either side. They certainly don’t believe that Obama has performed well with respect to jobs and the economy, nor is there any sign that they think he has the answers going forward. However, voters also don’t believe the Romney has the answers. Rather, they seem to believe that Romney, to quote the Democrats’ mantra, will rely on the traditional “trickle down econommics and de-regulation that got us into this mess in the first place.”
The Democrats’ edge is at the emotional level. Romney has improved as a candidate and the Republican Convention probably helped his image. For example, a new poll shows that as many voters now regard his time at Bain as plus as consider it a minus.
Yet Romney still lacks the ability to connect strongly with voters. And a clear majority seems convinced that Obama cares more about ordinary Americans (i.e., them) than Romney does. In bad economic times in which neither Party is viewed as having the answer, it is normal to prefer the guy who comes across as more empathetic.
This doesn’t mean that all is lost. But I no longer consider this race a toss-up; Obama, it now seems to me, has the edge.
The burden thus falls on Mitt Romney (with Paul Ryan’s help) to show that he is not offering the same ideas that, supposedly, “got us into this mess” (Romney isn’t, as I have argued before). If Romney doesn’t meet this burden, he probably will not be able to rely on America “coming to its senses” and voting out an unsuccessful incumbent. He probably will have to rely instead on “events” between now and early November and on the debates.
But “events” (if any) may not cut in Romney’s favor, and Romney is unlikely decisively to outdebate Obama.