By Mark Wolf
And they’re not happy. They are disgusted with the gridlock in Washington and 54 percent of them would vote to replace every member of Congress if that option was available. They think President Barack Obama is more relatable and has a lead in national polls but presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney gets better grades for handling the economy.
Preeminent pollsters Peter Hart, who polls for Democrats, and Neil Newhouse, who is polling for Romney, lunged and parried their analysis of poll numbers during Tuesday’s General Session titled “What Do Americans Really Think?” at the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Legislative Summit in Chicago.
“The ‘Trust Bank’ is broken. There is nine percent confidence in Wall Street,” said Hart.
Hart said Obama leads 49-43 in the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal national poll and holds a holds a 54-39 advantage among women but that only about 30 percent of Americans believe the nation is heading in the right direction.
“If you’re an incumbent, that sets the tone, and the tone for President Obama is going to be challenging,” said Hart.
Newhouse cited data showing the challenger in presidential races gets a bigger bounce (11 percent to the incumbent’s 7 percent) coming out of his party’s convention and that his image rises twice as much as the incumbent. He said the president’s job approval would, in NCAA tournament parlance, put him “on the bubble” for re-election.
Hart contrasted voters’ perception of “The Campaign We Have” (characterized by negative campaigning) with “The Campaign We Want” (a focus on important issues, creating jobs, fixing the economy and stopping negative campaigning).
“The American public is crying out for someone to talk to them, reach out to them, give them a sense of how we can get out of this,” said Hart. Instead, he said, both parties are giving voters “a lot of slime going back and forth and it’s exactly the opposite of what America wants.”
Republicans have a 74-68 advantage in voter enthusiasm, which represents a 14-point turnaround from 2008, Hart said. “Will people under the age of 30 bother to turn out? At this stage they’re at 50 percent. Hispanics are at 50. If those two groups don’t turn out, you can turn out the lights in a number of states.”
Newhouse recalled Ronald Reagan’s messaging against Jimmy Carter (“Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”), but said it should be tweaked this year to “Did you expect things to be better after three years of President Obama?”
Both pollsters shared their favorite offbeat focus group questions: Hart asks what people thought the candidates would have been like as fifth graders; Newhouse asks what kind of animal a candidate would be.
The combined campaigns will spend an estimated $1.1 billion on TV ads this year, focusing on a handful of swing states. “If you live in Sacramento or Dallas, Texas, you’re not going to see a single ad. If you live in Ohio, good luck to you,” said Newhouse. The Cleveland market has already seen more than 19,000 ads so far, and the campaigns spent more in July in the Charlotte, N.C., market in July than was spent in October, 2008.
Newhouse said his firm had conducted several focus groups with “Walmart Moms,” defined as women with children age 18 or younger at home and who shopped at Walmart at least once in the past month. According to Newhouse, women don’t talk about how issues impact them, they talk about how issues will impact their children.
Newhouse wouldn’t speculate on who would make the best running mate for Romney, but Hart said Ohio Senator Rob Portman “makes a lot of sense to Republicans.”
“This is going to be the most expensive and negative campaign in history. With the help of pollsters, you have figured out how to win an election. Now the challenge is how to win the nation,” said Hart.