The dramatic reversal in many presidential polls has forced a lot of pundits to reevaluate everything from the accuracy of the polling to the importance of debates. The most popular theories are that the reversal in poll numbers against Obama are due to his dismal showing in last week’s debate, as well as the mishandling of the terror incident in Libya on Sept. 11.
I’m sure those were major factors, but every election has its ebbs and flows. After the negative publicity that Romney received last month with the release of his “47%” comment, many were saying he was finished, but I have to wonder whether the reversal in the polls and Romney’s surge isn’t simply related to a few fundamental laws of marketing.
Well before the campaigns got started, it was understood that Obama would not be able to run on his record. Yet, to most everyone’s surprise, his plans for the future are largely more of the same. His strongest asset is that he’s extremely well liked, and his favorability scores were to be the key to his reelection.
Sure, Obama has taken some heat recently for declining to meet with world leaders and avoiding the Washington press in favor of appearances in more more-friendly venues like “The View.” But I think that’s part of a very well-conceived plan to ensure he reaches the constituencies he absolutely needs to win the election.
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Additionally, Obama has been from day one of his presidency the most committed fundraiser to ever hold the presidency. In fact, the Obama campaign will do what was previously thought unimaginable – to raise and spend $1 billion on a single campaign!
Personal likability and a bottomless war chest are what most political watchers thought would make a second Obama term inevitable. Plus, the polls showed the public trusted him more on the issue of national security. And that’s where it began to unravel.
Up until now, that $1 billion appeared to be well spent; after all, it was going primarily to cast Romney as an out-of-touch rich guy who didn’t care about the middle class – you know, a mean-spirited, greedy capitalist. The belief was that no one could survive a $1-billion character assassination. In fact, Romney’s favorability/unfavorability ratings among the electorate have been cited as the worst ever of a challenger looking to unseat an incumbent president.
That’s why I don’t believe the “Romney surge,” as it’s called, is the result of his dominating performance in last week’s debate. I think Obama was at a disadvantage in the debate because he couldn’t drive home the campaign message that Romney was an evil guy because he had to maintain his greatest advantage, which is likeability. The result was that the debate was, for many Americans, their first chance to really listen to Romney. They learned that he actually didn’t fit the narrative as an evil and clueless big shot.
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Couple that with the lack of honesty from the administration surrounding the debacle in Libya that cost four American lives, and not only did Obama lose ground in his two areas of strength, but the fruits of that $1 billion spent vilifying Romney were almost immediately and permanently vacated. In the light of day, the message didn’t fit the product and consumers reacted to that disconnect. I think people also felt they’d been manipulated, even lied to.
With $16 trillion in federal debt and counting, the government’s misuse of $1 billion in a day’s time hardly causes a ripple among the electorate these days. The Obama campaign, however, literally saw the effectiveness of a $1-billion campaign virtually destroyed in just 90 minutes. The result is that this election is now a dogfight, and Romney has the advantage by merely refining and driving home the same message he has been delivering all along.
Obama has to decide whether to turn up the attacks and risk hurting his favorability advantage, or to abandon the anti-Romney narrative and attack Romney’s views instead. Coming into the debates, both sides felt that the Obama campaign had been run masterfully and the Romney campaign had just bumbled along. After the debate, however, it appears the Obama campaign was the one that likely had been making the messaging mistakes.