Yes, it’s still late March. However, it seems like the presidential race has its 2 major participants: President Obama and Mitt Romney. While he hasn’t officially won yet, it is very hard to imagine a scenario with Romney not as the Republican nominee. Plus, there are plenty of indicators available to form some type of prediction for the general election. In this post, I will discuss some of these indicators, and explain why I disagree with the mainstream idea that this will be a close election.
Perhaps the most important poll when predicting the next president is each candidates’ favorable and unfavorable ratings. No president in recent history has won the president election with a higher unfavorable than favorable rating. While voters certainly can change from viewing a candidate favorably to unfavorably after more media attention is devoted to that candidate and voters learns more about the candidate. But, logically, it doesn’t seem that this change would work in the reverse direction. Once a voter finds out something that he/she doesn’t like about the candidate, it is very difficult to forget that information. Unfavorable ratings always increase as the election becomes more heated, with more mudslinging and more focus on the candidates’ negatives.
Given the importance of favorability polls, let’s look at past presidential nominees in the same position. The Daily Beast did a great article with these important numbers. In March 1976, Jimmy Carter, who was challenging incumbent President Gerald Ford, had a favorability rating of 74 percent. Four years later, Carter’s challenger, Ronald Reagan, had a favorability rating of 41 percent while 34 percent viewed him unfavorability. In February 1984, Walter Mondale, who won only his home state against Reagan, had 37 percent people view him unfavorability, compared to only 32 percent favorable. In May 1988, Michael Dukakis was 38-14 favorable. While Clinton had a net unfavorability rating during the primaries, his numbers jumped to 62-25 favorable by the Democratic Convention. Bob Dole struggled, with 27 percent favorable and 29 percent unfavorable. Gore’s ratings were slightly more unfavorable by the general election, but he was viewed more favorably than unfavorably during the primary against Bill Bradley. George W. Bush had great favorability ratings in 2000, 63-32 in March. Despite his chronic boringness, John Kerry also had a net-favorable rating. The rough Democratic primary in 2008 didn’t do too much harm to Obama’s favorability ratings, as his unfavorability ratings never came close to surpassing his favorability.
So where does presumed Republican nominee Mitt Romney stand? Pollster has his average favorability at 38 percent and his unfavorability at 47 percent. In the most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found that half of the people polled viewed Romney unfavorability with only 34 favorable. In comparison, Obama, despite being completely in the public eye for the last 4 years, still has a net +10 favorability rating. People may dislike some of his policies, but voters still like the president himself.
One could argue that it should be expected for Romney’s unfavorability ratings to be higher than normal because of his previous run for president – he has already been in the national spotlight. True, but so was Reagan. He ran in 1976 and was governor of the most populated state in the country. Dole ran in 1980 and 1988, and was Ford’s VP nominee in 1976. While he did have a net unfavorable rating at this time in 1996, it was only -2, compared to Romney’s -9 average and his huge -16 in the most recent poll. Gore ran for president before as well, and he served in the national spotlight as Clinton’s VP for 8 years. The dislike for Romney truly is unprecedented.
But if Romney is so disliked, how is he still the presumptive nominee? Because the rich are coming to the polls more than ever before, and those super wealthy vote overwhelmingly for Romney, even in states where the former MA governor loses. Rachel Maddow did a great segment on this, so I’m not going to go into all the details. And, as we all know, the rich are a much bigger slice of the Republican electorate than the Democratic or Independent. Therefore, the rich vote will be more diluted in November. Romney cannot rely entire on the rich vote to beat Obama like he has to beat Santorum and Gingrich. He also cannot rely on his huge cash advantage in the primary to continue in the general. Remember the ridiculous amount of money that Obama raised in 2008? He may not quite reach that again, but he’s certainly going to have a much larger war chest than Santorum or Gingrich.
But there is still so much more. Obama has some of the most brilliant minds on his campaign team who will create great strategies and hire firms to create great ads (Remember the brilliant 2008 campaign?). Really, they don’t even have to try that hard to make effective ads – Romney has switched positions on virtually every issue. Just play those back to back. And remember all those gaffes Romney made? He thinks people losing their jobs is a joke, he said that he knows many NASCAR owners, that he has many, many cars, loves grits and Davy Crockett, and so much more. He makes a new gaffe virtually everyday. Imagine how much worse it will get when the pressure is really on during the general election. He has already be framed as an out-of-touch super-rich elitist who doesn’t understand how to relate to the average American. Compare that to Obama, who has shown that he can go off the script and strike a chord with the people. It all goes back to favorability.
I haven’t even talked about the GOP’s so-called “War on Women,” attacks on Hispanics, Romneycare, the increasing inequality between the rich and poor (with Romney the epitome of rich) the fact that the economy is getting better, that the auto bailout save the auto industry, that Obama’s mission killed Bin Laden, etc. Romney will still carry the Deep South states of Mississippi, Alabama, and probably Arkansas and Louisiana, as well as the lightly-populated Western and Midwestern states such Utah, Kansas, Montana, and Oklahoma. But the rest is really up for grabs for Obama. Or, more accurately, vulnerable to the Republicans because of the intense dislike for Romney. Obama is headed for a big win in 2012.