Romney poll surge: grim for Obama, or par for the course?

Oct 9, 2012

Two weeks after he risked alienating half of US with his '47 per cent' remark, Romney is back in the race

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HAS Mitt Romney made a significant breakthrough in his presidential election campaign? The Republican contender has been given a four-point lead over Barack Obama in a Pew Research Centre poll released yesterday. The same poll gave Obama a lead of eight percentage points in September and it is the first survey to suggest that Romney has pulled ahead following last week's televised presidential debate.
Just two weeks after Romney's "47 per cent" comment led many to believe his campaign was over, the Republican is suddenly back in the race after Obama fared badly in the first TV debate . But how bad is it for the incumbent?

"Devastating, just devastating," says Andrew Sullivan in the Daily Beast. "I've never seen a candidate self-destruct for no external reason this late in a campaign before. Gore was better in his first debate - and he threw a solid lead into the trash that night. Even Bush was better in 2004 than Obama last week. Even Reagan's meandering mess in 1984 was better - and he had approaching Alzheimer's to blame.

"Romney's favourables are above Obama's now... That gender gap that was Obama's firewall? Over in one night.

Sullivan says he isn't giving up just yet. "But when a president self-immolates on live TV, and his opponent shines with lies and smiles, and a record number of people watch, it's hard to see how a president and his party recover."

Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post writes: "Of course, this is a single poll. But it's a major shot in the arm for a Romney campaign that 10 days ago was fighting off 'Is it all over?' stories."

Cillizza notes that there is "a clear surge in enthusiasm and engagement on the Republican side that is born of genuine excitement among the base for their candidate".

The Pew poll shows that 67 per cent of Romney supporters say they support him strongly - a major increase from the 56 per cent in the September Pew poll. There has also been a five-point increase in Romney's favourability rating among all voters since last month.
However, there are very good reasons to believe Sullivan might be over-egging Obama's downfall. "Pew has delivered polls with wild October swings before," writes Harry J Enten in The Guardian.  "Pew Research reported Obama leads over John McCain of 14 and 15 points in October 2008. These leads were larger than Obama's final lead of six points and previous lead of seven points."

Even if the Pew poll figures are accurate, there are some positives for Obama among the data, notes Wall Street Journal blog Washington Wire. "Messrs. Romney and Obama are tied among registered voters. Mr. Obama is still viewed as better able to connect with ordinary people, according to the survey. By small margins, the president is seen as the better candidate to deal with Medicare, health care and foreign policy. And more than half of voters – 53 per cent - say that 'It's hard to know what Romney really stands for'."

Nate Silver in the New York Times points out that while Pew might show a surge for Romney, two other polls published by Gallup and Rasmussen yesterday suggest a shift in support back to Obama following the Republican's post-debate bump. The suggestion is that the Pew poll is a weird outlier resulting from a skewed voter sample.

Silver says that presidential challengers traditionally do well from first debates. "In eight of the ten election cycles since 1976, the polls moved against the incumbent," he explains.

Silver insists the US economy, with the unemployment rate falling, is in line with Obama being "a very modest favourite". Besides, he concludes, "incumbent presidents just aren't that easy to defeat".

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Now its this kind of information that makes death come as less than a bitter disappointment. How on earth is a deluded, war mongering bigot even in the running to rule one of the most powerful countries in the world?