Two new polls present vastly different pictures of the upcoming presidential election. According to Fox News, Obama has a 46 percent to 39 percent advantage over Romney if the election were held today (fieldwork was conducted May 13-15). In contrast, the CBS News/NY Times poll had Romney ahead of Obama with 46 percent to 43 percent of the vote (fieldwork May 11-13). How can these disparate results be reconciled?
The answer is threefold.
The first point to consider is the tremendous level of dissatisfaction and anger the electorate feels towards the political system. Both Obama and Romney have high negative ratings. Importantly, people want change – and they want it now. The electorate is looking for clear messages from the candidates on the issues that matter, namely the economy. Up to this point they haven’t been given satisfactory answers and so they go back and forth with Obama or Romney ahead one day and behind the next. In real terms these polls indicate that the race is effectively a tie.
The Rasmussen and Gallup tracking numbers confirm that the election is currently tied. As it stands, Rasmussen shows Obama leading Romney 46 percent to 44 percent. In contrast, Gallup’s results show Romney with a slight advantage over Obama at 46 percent to 45 percent, underlining that the vacillation between the candidates reflects an angry electorate and a neck-and-neck race.
The second significant point is that Obama’s ratings have come down. While he was hovering comfortably around the 50 percent mark, he has now sunk below that point whether he wins (Fox News) or loses (CBS News/NY Times). The reality is that Obama’s ratings are now in the ballpark of 43 percent to 46 percent, leaving him ample opportunity to make up ground that he has recently lost or for Romney to take advantage.
And finally, Romney has revealed his two-pronged strategy to tell people what it is that he stands for and how that contrasts with what Obama offers. Romney’s “Day One” ad is explicit: he will approve the Keystone pipeline, cut taxes and get rid of Obamacare. The national debt, as captured in the probably ever-present debt clock, will keep the major point of contrast with Obama in focus. Again, Romney is crystal clear: He’s all about cuts and reductions, which Obama promised and has failed to accomplish.
The economy is and remains the key issue in this election and Romney is beginning to show that he knows that. While the “Day One” ad is not a complete vision, it is indicative of a strategy to create some positives. Focus on the economy and not on Super PACs that go off on extraneous issues like Reverend Wright will also serve him well.
There are still many more polls left to analyze in this election and there will inevitably be more conflicting results to explain. What we do know for sure is that these polls indicate that there is a lot more story to be told and that the economy is where the battle will be fought.