Did Hurricane Sandy Blunt Romney’s Momentum?

Republicans already seem to be blaming Hurricane Sandy in the event Mitt Romney loses.

As we make our way through the final day of the campaign, the most notable thing in the polling is the extent to which the President seems to have rebounded, or Mitt Romney faded, in the last week or so. This has been most noticeable in the national polling, where Romney’s previous narrow lead has been replaced by a narrow Obama lead thanks largely to increases in the President’s level of support, as this chart of the RealClearPolitics National Average for October 1st through today shows:

We have also seen an increase in the President’s job approval rating over the past month and, of course, the President’s continued strength in swing state polls in states like Ohio, Virginia, New Hampshire and Colorado. All of this has led some Republicans to start to hint that if Obama wins, it will be at least in part because of Hurricane Sandy:

The election is still a day away, but the political pundits who might be on the losing side of the vote are already preparing their excuses for what went wrong. The early line coming from some Republicans is that Hurricane Sandy really put the brakes on Mitt Romney’s campaign, just at the moment he was staging a powerful comeback. Former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour gave that idea its own forward push on the Sunday morning talk shows, explicitly saying that ”The hurricane is what broke Romney’s momentum.”

He’s not the only one who thinks that either. None other than super-strategist Karl Rove admitted that the storm was a distraction from Romney’s economic message and it also gave President Obama a chance to play the roll of “comforter-in-chief.” Despite the “stutter” in the campaign, as Rove called it, he told The Washington Post that he still thinks Romney wins Ohio and the election, but there’s no doubt in his mind that the hurricane and its aftermath made his job a lot harder.

Then there’s the private “insiders” behind the Romney curtain who are also complaining about the storm’s impact on their fortunes. They claim their internal polls showed Romney picking up support for eight straight days before Sandy arrived, but the break in the campaign robbed him of the Big Mo.

Another prominent Republican businessman, Rupert Murdoch, directly criticized Chris Christie for his so-called “embrace” of President Obama in the wake of the storm, saying, absurdly, that he most “re- declare for Romney, or take blame for next four dire years.”

There’s no question that Sandy did have an impact of some kind on the Romney campaign’s strategy. When the storm hit last Monday, Romney had been scheduled to kick off the last week of his campaign with what has become his “closing speech” and a tour that would have taken him from Ohio to Virginia to Florida, and beyond just in the week between October 29th and November 2nd. That entire plan got derailed for at least three days as both campaigns suspended campaigning in the wake of what became a catastrophic storm all along the East Coast, but most especially on the Jersey Shore, Long Island, and New York City. Romney was reduced to turning a planned rally in Ohio into a makeshift donations-for-the-storm-victims event that more than a few reporters described as going off just a bit awkwardly, which isn’t surprising given that it was planned at the last minute. The President, on the other hand, was seen well, being Presidential whether it was at FEMA Headquarters in Washington or during his tour of the Jersey Shore with Governor Christie. It wasn’t till later in the week that the campaign got back into full swing, and it’s seemed pretty clear since then that something had changed.

However, it’s easy to take this one massive event and say that it was the turning point in the race, but as Nate Silver points out, there are a number of other reasons that the polls have seemingly moved back in the President’s favor:

 [T]here are any number of alternatives to explain Mr. Obama’s gains before and after the storm hit.

  • Mr. Obama was adjudicated the winner of the second and third presidential debates in surveys of voters who watched them.
  • The past month has brought a series of encouraging economic news, including strong jobs reports in October and last Friday.
  • The bounce in the polls that Mr. Romney received after the Denver debate may have been destined to fade in part, as polling bounces often do following political events like national conventions.
  • Democrats have an edge in early voting based on states that provide hard data about which party’s voters have turned out to cast ballots. Some voters who were originally rejected by the likely voter models that surveys apply may now be included if they say that they have already voted.
  • Both Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney have been running lots of advertisements, which could have some effect, especially in the swing states.
  • Mr. Obama’s voter-targeting operation may in fact be stronger than Mr. Romney’s and may have begun to show up in the polls.
  • Mr. Obama’s approval rating is at 49 or 50 percent in many surveys, a threshold that would ordinarily predict a narrow re-election for an incumbent.
  • Some elections “break” toward one or another candidate at the end as undecided voters tune in and begin to evaluate their decision.

It’s impossible to say what  would’ve happened if Sandy had veered off to sea and never threatened the American mainland, an alternate universe that the residents of the New York Tri-State area would no doubt have preferred. As Silver notes, and as the chart above shows, there were signs well before October 29th that Romney’s momentum from the October 3rd debate was starting to fade and that the President had largely recovered from that debate. I do think that the images that voters saw of him in the wake of Hurricane Sandy made it more difficult for Republicans to continue their attack on the President’s leadership, and the fact that the storm pretty much ate up the entire news cycle last week is something that benefited him as well. However, the idea that the storm itself would be seen as the turning point in the campaign doesn’t really comport with the facts. So sorry GOP, you won’t be able to blame a loss on Sandy.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Campaign 2012, Politicians, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. Geek, Esq. says:

    His momentum had already died. Sandy made it impossible for him to get it started again.

    He was trailing in Ohio before Sandy.

    He was trailing in Iowa before Sandy.

    He was trailing in Wisconsin before Sandy.

    He had no chance in Nevada before Sandy.

    He was trailing in New Hampshire before Sandy.

    He was tied in Colorado before Sandy.

    He was tied in Virginia before Sandy.

    He was narrowly ahead in Florida before Sandy.

    He was uncomfortably ahead in NC before Sandy.

    Sandy changed nothing–it preempted further changes in the race.

  2. john personna says:

    Are they sure they want to go with Act of God?

    (but no, I agree that Romney peaked earlier, around October 12)

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    The President, on the other hand, was seen well, being Presidential whether it was at FEMA Headquarters in Washington or during his tour of the Jersey Shore with Governor Christie.

    Huh. You know I watched that and that is not what I saw. I saw an Islamo-Fascist-America hating apologist groveling before the gods of global warming. Take off the blinders Doug.

  4. Just Me says:

    Whether Romney had momentum or not, it certainly blunted his ability to get his message or even much of his face into the media, because media coverage of Sandy was going to dominate.

    Although, I would give Sandy about 4 more days and if the media was as prone to blaming the administration in Sandy as they were during Katrina this story might have turned into a negative for Obama.

    They are still finding bodies, there are still areas with no power and little food and water and people are pretty pissed-basically BLoomburg has taken on the role of Ray Nagin, although the media wouldn’t dare put Obama in the role of Bush.

  5. DC Loser says:

    Now they’re blaming inanimate objects.

  6. george says:

    I’m not sure why it would matter if Sandy effected it or not – elections aren’t experiments conducted in a vaccuum. Real life always has a way of imposing itself on elections – if you can’t deal with that, probably shouldn’t be in politics.

    The same would have been true if Obama had mishandled the aftermath (which he didn’t) – you play the game as it unfolds, not under some ideal circumstances.

  7. mantis says:

    @Just Me:

    Although, I would give Sandy about 4 more days and if the media was as prone to blaming the administration in Sandy as they were during Katrina this administration were as incompetent as the Bush administration in emergency management this story might have turned into a negative for Obama.

    FTFY

  8. mantis says:

    @DC Loser:

    Now they’re blaming inanimate objects.

    It’s an empty chair’s fault!

  9. Geek, Esq. says:

    @Just Me:

    No one with two brain cells to rub together would consider the two situations remotely analogous.

    Hint #1: Obama offered FEMA support BEFORE the storm happened.

    Hint #2: No one’s identified a single death that was caused by governmental incompetence.

    Hint #3: Not a single governmental official–Democrat, Republican, or otherwise– on the ground has criticized the federal response.

    Final note: $50 billion storms don’t get cleaned up and swept away within 6 calendar days.

  10. MBunge says:

    I have to echo what I saw elsewhere on the intertubes. As far as sour grapes go, blaming Sandy for their loss would be about the least destructive thing Republicans could do.

    Mike

  11. I love the thought of a professional propagandist like Murdoch placing blame for a loss on Chris Christie of all people. Shouldn’t he be in jail in the UK by now?

  12. Just Me says:

    Hint #3: Not a single governmental official–Democrat, Republican, or otherwise– on the ground has criticized the federal response.

    Um I assume you missed complaints from Staten Island then. Mayor had some harsh words.

    And for the record there are also complaints about the lack of generators and there are residents wondering where the water is that FEMA was supposed to provide.

    That said, I mostly though the declarations for Bush’s head during Katrina were dumb. Nobody in Mississippi was complaining and they actually had the eye hit them.

    I generally think disasters are disasters and generally the local mobilization is key.

  13. john personna says:

    We should also mention Mitt’s unfortunate openness to eliminating unwanted federal responsibilities, like FEMA.

  14. Rob in CT says:

    I’m 99% sure the answer to the question is no, because the poll data was showing a halt in Romney’s climb/Obama’s fall before Sandy.

    What Sandy may have done is help run out the clock for Obama. That only helps because he was ahead already.

  15. legion says:

    It wasn’t _Sandy_ that hurt Romney; it was Romney’s own amazingly poorly-timed criticism of – and promise to kill off – FEMA just as the storm was starting to make landfall. I mean, I know the GOP has hated FEMA for years, but to pop off like that at the exact moment when every single person in the country knows the east coast is going to desperately need FEMA in a matter of hours was simply beyond stupid.

    Sandy is being blamed by the pundits, but just like every other single thing that’s “blunted Romney’s momentum”, it is purely and totally Romney’s own fault.

  16. Scott F. says:

    @MBunge:
    You’ve got it right there, Mike.

    Lord knows, the Republicans won’t be blaming the broad unpopularity of their policy positions.

  17. Geek, Esq. says:

    @Just Me:

    Yes the area of Staten Island that was under a MANDATORY EVACUATION ORDER is hurting right now. Maybe people there should have gone Galt, exercised personal responsibility, and not stuck around.

    FEMA’s job is to help in disaster response, with local agencies take the lead. Its job is not to solve everone’s problem within a week.

    Staten Island doesn’t have a mayor.

  18. Steve says:

    I thought the traditional excuse was “the sun was in my eyes”.

    Steve

  19. Rafer Janders says:

    @Just Me:

    I generally think disasters are disasters and generally the local mobilization is key.

    Or, as Stephen Colbert just put it, “who better to respond to what’s going on inside its own borders than a state whose entire infrastructure has just been swept out to sea?”

  20. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Political silly season never ended, the chattering classes with rare exceptions need a giant, collective mental enema, and no matter what happens Tuesday p.m. the fact of the matter is that Wednesday a.m. in various corners of the Internet there will be a live action tragicomedy of historic proportions.

  21. Rafer Janders says:

    @Just Me:

    Um I assume you missed complaints from Staten Island then. Mayor had some harsh words.

    Yes, I must have missed them, since Staten Island does not have a mayor. Staten Island is part of New York City, Bloomberg is the mayor of New York City, and Bloomberg was effusive in his praise of President Obama’s response.

  22. Jr says:

    I call bullshit.

    Anyone who follows polls know that the race has been trending Obama since the second debate.

    The national polls are now slowly following the state polls.

  23. MattT says:

    The biggest contributor to the recent change in numbers is the tendency of less scrupulous pollsters to turn down their bias just before the election, and gravitate toward the national average. They need to protect their reputations by being able to say for the next 4 years that they called it right, in the end….so they can go back to being biased in the earlier stages of 2016 and get paid by those whose interests are served by cooked numbers.

    Sandy also played a role, and it wasn’t just through Christie. The NYT ran an editorial on the theme that Sandy demonstrated an appropriate role for big government, and I suspect that a slap in the face from Mother Nature made a few people see that FEMA – and by association the EPA, DOT, and etc – is more than just an ideological football.

  24. mantis says:

    @Just Me:

    Um I assume you missed complaints from Staten Island then. Mayor had some harsh words.

    The mayor had some harsh words about the federal response? What were they?

    And for the record there are also complaints about the lack of generators and there are residents wondering where the water is that FEMA was supposed to provide.

    FEMA is not providing? Which official made these claims?

    That said, I mostly though the declarations for Bush’s head during Katrina were dumb.

    Of course you did. But then again, you probably weren’t stranded or getting shot at while trying to get food. Nobody but the most deluded partisand thinks the Bush admin handled Katrina well.

    Nobody in Mississippi was complaining and they actually had the eye hit them.

    Your misunderstanding of these storms in general and Katrina’s impact in particular aside, really? Nobody in Miss. complained?

    I generally think disasters are disasters and generally the local mobilization is key.

    Federal coordination and management is very important in large scale disasters such as this. Bush thought differently, and paid the price.

  25. sam says:

    Dunno if it blunted his mo (did he really have any?), but it did give him the FEMAtrots every time a reporter asked him about the agency.

  26. LaMont says:

    I call BS on anybody that is trying to blame Romney’s loss of momentun on hurricane Sandy. According to Nate Silver, Romney peaked on October 12th. Eighteen days before Sandy. Not only that, Romney’s chances of winning were back on the decline before Sandy hit on the 30th.

  27. jukeboxgrad says:

    A lot of good reasons have already been mentioned, but here’s another one: Mitt hurt himself by telling lies about Jeeps and China. Of course he has told lots of other lies, but this particular lie blew up in a pretty big way.

  28. Barry says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: I notice that you’re not making bold predictions any more.

  29. bk says:

    Romney was reduced to turning a planned rally in Ohio into a makeshift donations-for-the-storm-victims event that more than a few reporters described as going off just a bit awkwardly, which isn’t surprising given that it was planned at the last minute.

    Oh yeah, right. That is the only reason that that event received criticism from “more than a few reporters” (umm, it was pretty much everyone). Doug, do you read your stuff before you hit send? Assuming that the answer is “yes”, then did you read any of the criticisms of that event? If so, did you not see that it was universally mocked, but NOT because it was “planned at the last minute”?

  30. Console says:

    @Just Me:

    The death toll for Katrina was almost TWO THOUSAND, jackass.

    It wasn’t just some random media freakout.

  31. matt says:

    @Just Me: The eye wasn’t the worst part of Katrina. Generally it’s actually best to be hit by the eye of a hurricane.

  32. Console says:

    @matt:

    The actual storm did hit harder to the east of New Orleans. But that’s a semantic point. A good deal of people in New Orleans died after the storm, when the levees breached. And most of the deaths from the storm happened in Louisiana, not Mississippi.

    People like Just Me basically send all this stuff down the memory hole, where it gets twisted and pressed by tribalistic partisan nonsense into something completely different. Only to be dredged up in it’s new form as a bullshit talking point.

    Anyone that looks at Sandy and sees Katrina is a hack.

  33. mattb says:

    People (and all to often Pundits) never let the facts get in the way of a good narrative. Especially when a notable event is involved. So for example Romney’s rise began with Obama’s failed first debate (more accurate: the rise had begun roughly a week ahead of time, and was in part due to the end of Obama’s post-convention bounce). Likewise, Sandy was what stopped Romney’s momentum (despite the fact that it had largely run out of steam roughly half a week before).

  34. An Interested Party says:

    Whether Romney had momentum or not, it certainly blunted his ability to get his message or even much of his face into the media, because media coverage of Sandy was going to dominate.

    Perhaps God is a Democrat…

    Although, I would give Sandy about 4 more days and if the media was as prone to blaming the administration in Sandy as they were during Katrina this story might have turned into a negative for Obama.

    Except, of course. that the President handled Sandy far differently than Bush handled Katrina…here’s a little clue for you…the current head of FEMA is someone who has actual experience with managing natural disaster emergencies, as opposed to Bush’s political crony…