Pethokoukis, Politics and Public Opinion

Why voter belief in the gloomy New Normal may make Obama a winner

Image credit: Citigroup

Image credit: Citigroup

How can President Obama be winning? The job market has stagnated at severely depressed levels, and incomes have fallen throughout this “recovery.” If it really is a “It’s the economy, stupid,” kind of year, Mitt Romney should be ahead, right?

But Romney isn’t ahead. And a big reason may be that Obama — 2008′s candidate of “hope and change” — is benefiting from a lack of hope among voters that positive change is possible. Some 60%-70% of Americans think the nation on the wrong track or headed in the wrong direction. And they seem skeptical either candidate can make things better. The status quo wins. And Obama is the status quo.

Citigroup just came out with a report that reiterated its forecast of an Obama victory. Here is a bit of Citi’s analysis:

Since the beginning of this year, around 60% of Americans tell pollsters that the country is on the wrong track, historically a potent indicator of dissatisfaction with the current presidential administration.

But this pessimism isn’t new to the United States. Some pollsters report ‘wrong track’ pluralities since 2003. With economic and political uncertainty at home and abroad, we suggest that this dissatisfaction with the status quo may signal the emergence of a “new normal” in US public opinion. A review of the public opinion data [in the above chart] highlights that the last time a plurality of US voters viewed the country as being on the “right track” was in the early part of the last decade.


For sixty years, Americans have enjoyed a consistently rising standard of living, and this prosperity has been the root of the traditional American optimism. But in the wake of the global financial crisis, the mood has changed. For the first time, large numbers of Americans feel that their children won’t be better off than they were, marking a significant departure from one of America’s most cherished notions —social mobility through hard work instead of class privilege: meritocracy.

If true, then Romney’s pitch as a Mr. Fix-It, The Man with the Plan, the Turnaround Artist, won’t be enough unless he persuades Americans that his plan — any plan — can really work. That change for the better is possible. That the good times aren’t really over for good.

People need to be inspired as much as persuaded.

Can Romney and Paul Ryan do that by November?

3 thoughts on “Why voter belief in the gloomy New Normal may make Obama a winner

  1. People need to be inspired, but it might help if what Romney offered as a solution was remotely plausible.

    I see nothing here except “I ran businesses, you know” as if one could run Congress as one could run a business, and besides that, a half baked tax plan which will accomplish nothing, authored by the same man whose former plan bankrupted the government.

    There is nothing to hang your hat on as far as policy goes, and I think people are sensing that. The patient just needs more time to heal, and the economy will eventually sort itself out from the cataclysm it was put through.

  2. Romney may have been a good businessman but he was not a very good Governor. Leaving Massachusetts with an approval rating in the 30s, anemic job growth and government run health care gives me little hope. The GOP says I should vote for Mitt because he is not Barack. That does not inspire me either to believe things will get better…. given Romney’s record.

  3. Since April Romney has usually been ahead, according to Rasmussen polling, the most accurate pollster. Obama gets ahead briefly sometimes, but that always ends. Obama had a nice 5-6 point advantage for 2-3 days after the conventions, but now trails by 3 points. Romney was not able to spend on ads until the convention, during which time Obama was spending heavily, spending more than he was taking in. Romney is now raising about 40% more than Obama. From here on Romney will probably have 50% more ads than Obama. Since Sept. 1 Romney caught up to Obama in the swing states average, and they are now about tied there, showing the quick effects of Romney’s new ability to run ads.

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