61% Say Country Headed in Wrong Direction, Yet Obama Leads Romney
The election is about the economy. The economy is awful. Yet the incumbent still holds a slight lead.
Despite an overwhelming majority of Americans thinking the country is headed in the wrong direction and declining confidence that the economy is recovering, President Obama still holds a slight lead over Mitt Romney in the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll.
MSNBC (“NBC/WSJ poll: Obama, Romney remain in dead heat“):
President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney remain locked in a tight contest, with each candidate displaying significant strengths and weaknesses four months before Election Day, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
For Obama, he runs stronger than Romney does in the key swing states, and he holds a strong base of support among young voters, African Americans and Latinos. What’s more, the president continues to be personally popular.
But in the past month, the public has grown more pessimistic about the state of the U.S. economy and the country’s direction. And two key parts of Obama’s base – young voters and Latinos – aren’t as enthusiastic about the election as they were four years ago.
For Romney, key Republican groups – including the Tea Party – have begun to rally around the former Massachusetts governor, and he has the opportunity to capitalize on the attitudes about the economy and nation’s trajectory.
Yet he largely remains a largely undefined figure, and his favorable-unfavorable rating is still a net-negative.
“If the election is a referendum on health care or the economy, the odds work to Romney’s favor,” says Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff. “Obama is the odds-on favorite if it’s a referendum on the personal aspects.”
In the poll, the president leads his presumptive challenger by three points among registered voters, 47 to 44 percent, which is within the survey’s margin of error.
Last month, Obama’s edge over Romney was four points, 47 to 43 percent.
Also in the current poll, the president’s overall approval rating stands at 47 percent (down a point from May), and his favorable-unfavorable score is 48 to 38 percent (which is essentially unchanged).
Among swing-state respondents in the poll – those living in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin – Obama leads Romney, 50 to 42 percent. Also in these swing states, Romney’s favorability numbers have dropped, possibly reflecting the toll the negative Obama TV advertisements are having on the former Massachusetts governor in these battlegrounds.
A month ago, Romney’s favorable/unfavorable score stood at 34-38 percent nationally and 36-36 percent in the 12 swing states. But in this latest survey, his national fav/unfav score is 33-39 percent and 30-41 percent in the swing states.
But it’s also been a problematic month for Obama when it comes to U.S. economy. According to the poll, 49 percent say they’re less optimistic about the economy after what they’ve seen, read and heard in the last few weeks, compared with 43 percent who are more optimistic.
What’s more, 53 percent disapprove of the president’s handling of the economy, which is up one point from last month.
And 61 percent believe the nation is headed in the wrong direction, a three-point increase from May.
In full disclosure, Public Opinion Strategies employed my late wife from 1994 until her untimely passing in November and Bill McInturff is a family friend. It’s also worth noting that another firm partner, Neil Newhouse, is Mitt Romney’s pollster.
The “horserace” aspect off the poll strike me as uninteresting. The numbers changing 2 or 3 points since that May poll tell us exactly nothing; he numbers are fluctuating within the margin of sampling error. As Hart puts it, “It looks like a dead heat on a merry-go-round. The position of the two horses has not changed.” Any other interpretation is just silly journalism, trying to create a story when there isn’t one.
What’s more interesting to me is the degree to which this remains an uphill climb for Romney. The Wrong Track numbers remain astronomically high–fluctuating within the margin of error now for months and months. They’re not quite as high as they were at their peak last summer and fall but they’re higher than they were two years ago. And a majority disapproves of how Obama is handling the economy–which wasn’t the case his first few months in office but has been in every NBC/WSJ poll since December 2009.
The default position here should be Throw The Bum Out or Anybody But Obama. Yet, Obama’s leading the race. (Yes, it’s technically within the margin of error. Considering that Obama has come out ahead of Romney in every single one of these polls going back to September 2007, I choose to see it as a trend. And Romney’s been my choice since the early days of the primaries.)
Partly, that’s a function of people liking Obama personally. 48 percent have either very positive (29 percent) or somewhat positive (19 percent) feelings toward him with 38 percent having either somewhat negative (11 percent) or very negative (27 percent) feelings; another 14 percent are shockingly neutral after 3-1/2 years. Hell, I like the guy. But I wouldn’t take my car to an incompetent but likable mechanic, much less invest my money with a likable but incompetent financial advisor.
Romney is less well-liked. Partly, that’s because people don’t really know him. Which is to say, despite those of us reading and writing for political blogs having paid rapt attention to this race since literally before the last one was finished, most Americans haven’t really tuned in yet. A whopping 22 percent have a neutral opinion of Romney. While that’s down from the low 30s a few months ago, it’s still a sizable number. Another 6 percent have no opinion at all. Of those with an opinion, only a third have either a very positive (9 percent) or somewhat positive (24 percent) view of the presumptive Republican nominee. A higher number, 39 percent, have either a somewhat negative (17 percent) or very negative (22 percent) opinion.
So, Romney has a pretty serious “I’d like to have a beer with that guy” deficit. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t drink beer.
Which, incidentally, plays into the “Mormon Question.” While a bare majority (50 percent) claim to “feel comfortable” with Romney’s faith, 29 percent “don’t know enough to say either way” and a full 18 percent “do not feel comfortable.” That’s problematic in a close election–especially since the “do not feel comfortable” number is likely very low owing to a variation of the Bradley Effect. That is, people know they’re not supposed to be prejudiced against people on religious grounds, so they lie to pollsters to make themselves look good. That nearly a fifth of respondents admit to being uncomfortable about Romney’s Mormonism is a red flag.
More importantly, perhaps, is that while the economy remains far and away the most important issue and most people say that the economy is lousy and think Obama is doing a lousy job, there’s not an overwhelming sense that Romney will do any better. For one thing, 60 percent think Obama inherited the bad economy and only a third (33 percent) think his policies have hurt it. Another third (32 percent) think he’s helped and another third (32 percent) think it’s been a wash.
There’s oddly not a question asking which candidate would do a better job managing the economy. But there is a question asking about whether Romney’s business experience has made an impact on their view of him. And only 23 percent said it made them more positively disposed, compared to 28 percent who said it made them more negative. (Presumably, either a function of the anti-Bain ads, although it’s possible that these people are mostly Democrats, since there are no crosstabs available.)
Given the horrible state of the economy and the public’s extreme recognition and focus on that fact, this should be Romney’s election to lose. That he’s still behind should be of great concern to his supporters.