Friday, September 21, 2012

A Look At The Gaffes

The 47% story broke on roughly 9/17. The Omnivore's post (the 18th) was early--but by the time it was written there had already been one day of movement. To recap, here's how the betting markets and the RAND survey--both day-by-day and in real-time show the impact:
By the 2wk mark we would expect any convention bounce to be gone
Also Pretty Steep
What are we seeing? The answer is clear here--in these two measures, both not meaningless--show a significant decline in Romney's chances. But when we look at the polling for other gaffes, Obama's, we see this:
No Impact ...
What's Going On?
Well, we don't have actual polling numbers as yet--almost every poll on polls the period before the 17th. But Rasmussen's 3-day polling window goes from Romney +2 to Obama +2 after the 47% remarks. That's a 4pt swing for a poll that (reportedly) has a pretty strong "Republican house effect." If the other polls start coming into line with that? It's a big deal.

So the question is ... Why? Why is the 47% possibly showing motion where You Didn't Build That, The Private Sector Is Doing Fine, and even Clinging to Guns and Religion or the Libya Remarks haven't shown much motion? What would be different?

Let's see ...

Why Might 47% Be Different?
If you answered "Because the media loves Obama and hates Romney" I know how you're voting. If you answered "Because we saw the real Romney and You Didn't Build That was a phony gaffe!" I know how you're voting.

So what's different about 47%? Let's take some options:
  1. Timing. The Libya thing was definitely a misstep. Even if the polling arc doesn't show damage there were cries from the right that it didn't look presidential. Romney was wise enough not to criticize the president on foreign soil during his European tour--he should've been wise enough not to fire a shot right after an American ambassador was killed. Perhaps the 47% gaffe, coming right after Libya and just as Romney was rolling out his re-launch was simply hitting a weak-spot in the fabric of the presidential campaign?
  2. It's Wrong. As lots of people have pointed out the people who don't pay Income Tax are often Republican. They are often working. They may be retired or in the military. It's badly and insultingly wrong. Maybe, like upsetting small business owners with YDBT, Romney's problem is that he upset people who ought to like him.
  3. It's Long. The 47% and "victims" remark is one of the bomb-shells in that speech but it sure isn't the only one. There's "It's not my job to worry about those people." There's the Palestine comments. Whatever your pain point--if you have one--that is, if a moderate or independent has one--there's a chance Romney hit it.
  4. Bad Damage Control. Romney tried to change the conversation by return-fire with the 1994 re-distribution video on Obama. He has claimed he's for the 100%. He held a short 3-question press conference where he said he didn't speak eloquently and then he sort of doubled down on the idea that he was decrying people on government aid. There have been several rounds of spin control and while the talking points are pretty well nailed down now (The president was speaking solely about his campaign strategy and not about how he would govern!) it may be too little, too late, and too bottom up (from the blogs, talk radio, etc. rather than from the candidate) to sink in. Maybe he didn't do the right thing with his response?
  5. The Media. Did the media cover this differently than YDBT? Yes. They did. And yes, this makes a big difference. I didn't discount it above--but it isn't the whole story either. However, if you look around the web, you can see every conservative blog out there blaming the media ... and they're not wrong to: it's the vector that delivers the virus.
  6. It's The Real Romney. If you mean that he's a bad guy who doesn't care about the poor, I can't help you--I don't think that's true. However if you mean the gaffe plays directly into Romney's negative brand as being a wealthy plutocrat who doesn't care about the poor you're exactly right. Team Obama spent heavily and early to define Romney that way and they've succeeded. This gaffe plays directly into what people are afraid might be true about Romney ... the same way this whole affair plays directly into your fears, Mr. Conservative-Reader that Romney is a Milquetoast Massachusetts Moderate who Will. Not. Fight. If you got a shiver right there, you know what I'm talking about. Yes, you do.
What Do I Think?
Man, let's give it a week before we declare this a thermonuclear gaffe but I have to say the signs are there that it might be. As I've written here, I'm a big believer in "branding" and I think this hurt more than YDBT because for most people--other than the far right--Obama's "brand" is not that he's a socialist. Certainly--and consider this--Romney has not even been trying to paint him as one. There are not TV ads calling Obama a socialist. Limbaugh has done it--but he doesn't reach swing-voters.

Obama, on the other hand, has tarred Romney with the I-Like-To-Fire-People and I-Don't-Care-About-The-Poor several times. Some of the mud has stuck.

That said, there are a couple of other things you need to consider: (1) the remarks, played in full and within context are still damaging to the casual listener. The story that his speech is only about campaign-strategy rather than governance is conservative-blog-commentator spin--and hey, arguably correct--but during his actual speech Romney makes no such distinction (he does not then speak about how those 47% . With the Obama gaffes there was often a larger context that could be used to muddy the waters. This is not to say that the media's treatment has been even--but before you lay everything at the feet of the MSM consider that Romney started digging his own grave there--and kept digging. He dug pretty far down: it isn't just a one-sentence sound-bite ("I want to spread the wealth around!").

The other thing you should keep in mind is that (2) Romney, to an extent, has owned the remarks. He was vocally encouraged  by a slew of conservative voices to do so--and, if somewhat awkwardly, he has done so. Unlike Obama's Rev. Wright speech, Romney cannot throw Ayn Rand under the bus--he's running with her guy on his ticket. Romney cannot tout RomneyCare as proof he cares about the poor: it's poison to the base. Romney can't say good things about the Palestinians--to his right-wing audience they're foul and crazy. In short, he has almost no maneuvering room other than saying he "misspoke" and then trying to pivot like crazy to government entitlements. That's fine if the press will let him lead the conversation that way.

But, come on, even the most left-wing reader of this blog has to acknowledge they're not going to let him do that.

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