With 40 days to go until election day, both sides will tell you the outcome is uncertain. The presidential debates, the first of which is next Wednesday night, are seen as perhaps the last great chance for Mitt Romney to narrow the gap.
There’s been a lot of debate about the accuracy of the national polls, with pundits arguing that the 2008 turnout models being used aren’t valid for 2012 and thus overstate the Obama lead. That argument is likely true, and we saw evidence to that in the 2010 midterm elections and in statewide elections like the Scott Walker’s recall vote in Wisconsin. In both cases, the polls famously were wrong.
View results from BEEF's reader poll on the election outcome here.
While the polls may be wrong, they are still great reflections of trends. And it appears that the race in the key battleground states has moved decidedly in recent weeks in President Obama’s favor.
The Obama campaign has been both brilliant and focused up to this point. With the worst economic environment since the Great Depression, a skyrocketing deficit, widespread disillusionment about the direction of the country, and a foreign policy that has been an utter failure in shaping events in America’s best interest, it was thought that all an Obama challenger had to do to win was not to be Obama.
But the Obama campaign has succeeded in doing what the political pundits said could not be done. They have blamed their poor record on the previous president, while claiming they have a “new” plan that will make the future better.
All the pundits had predicted for months that the 2012 campaign would be the dirtiest ever, and it has been. Obama has raised more dollars than any candidate in history and those dollars largely have been used to create a negative image of Romney, the success of which has been phenomenal.
In contrast, the Romney campaign, despite knowing that hundreds of millions would be spent to define him in a negative light, seemed unprepared for the attacks aimed at depicting him as an uncaring rich guy only out to help the top 1%. The Occupy Wall Street movement is considered a joke, but Romney finds himself as being seen as among the villainized 1%.
Not only has the Romney campaign failed in making the election about Obama’s record, but also in articulating its vision for the future. Some fear that the Romney campaign’s lackluster performance has even begun to compromise the gains that were assumed in both the House and Senate.
But there’s still a lot of time to go and, truth be told, Romney has the ideal position, in that Obama does not and cannot merit high marks for his first term. If Romney comes across as more likable and different than the negative image created by the attack ads, if he can appear presidential, and if he is able to articulate and get his plan and vision out to the American people to the point where they believe he could change the direction of the country, the course of this election could change quickly.
The Democrats see this election as a tipping point; a victory will enable them to strengthen their coalition and electoral formula for decades to come. Meanwhile, Republicans are panicked: if they can’t win this election, what election can they win? The fear is that they will be reduced to nothing more than the loyal opposition.
There’s been much discussion about the importance of this election. Of course, something similar is said every four years, but both sides truly believe this election is significant. The 2016 elections might be a race that either side can win, but unless something changes neither party will want to. Because if the tough decisions are not made in the next four years, those following will have no options and the decisions won’t be popular.
Entitlement and tax reform will be painful and politically difficult to tackle. We print our own money and the dollar is still the world’s currency, which allows more time than Spain or Greece. But we are like the homeowner who went from a fully amortized home loan, to a partially amortized loan, to an interest-only loan; not only is it obvious we won’t be able to make the balloon payment, but there is doubt whether we can even pay the interest.
So, over the next few weeks, we’ll blame the parties for overused generalities, and dogma designed to divide rather than unite. We’ll complain about the lack of substantive debate and discussion. We’ll bemoan billions of dollars spent on 60-second commercials and a political dialogue dominated by 30-second sound bites.
But in the end, it’s not the parties, the process, or even the media that should be blamed. No, it will be the voting public at fault, an electorate that didn’t demand more from their leaders when it was desperately needed.