Yet another bad piece of emerging news for President Barack Obama: many analysts are now concluded there is a real chance he could lose indpendendent voters this time — which would mean losing the ball game. Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift looks at a Colorado focus group set up by a respected columnist and finds many of them have given up on the idea of political “hope” and concluded Obama doesn’t deliver:
How tough an uphill climb does President Obama face with independent voters?
If the findings of a focus group conducted this week are any indication, a steep one indeed.
Nine of the 12 people gathered in Denver on Tuesday voted for Obama in ’08, but only three lean toward him at this point. They are a cross-section of America, working in real estate, health care, IT, and sales, and they’re torn between a president whose performance they say has been underwhelming and who doesn’t deserve reelection, and a challenger they know very little about beyond the fact that he’s a rich and successful businessman.
When Democratic pollster Peter Hart probed for their thoughts about Bain Capital, the private-equity firm that Mitt Romney headed, nine of the group opted out, saying they didn’t know enough to talk about it. Of the three who ventured they knew “a little,” one said “Mitt ran it,” while another said “He did well,” three words that sum up the Obama campaign’s challenge as they try to tarnish what Hart has called Romney’s “halo effect” on the economy. They aren’t biting on Bain.
It isn’t that they view the situation as totally bleak (yet):
Listening to these voters for over two hours, it was clear that their assessment of the
economy is not as bleak as one would suppose, given their disaffection from Obama. They generally agree that the economy is improving, but Obama doesn’t get credit for a recovery that, while slow, is moving in the right direction—the core of his message for a second term. A few cited what they called “little things” Obama has done for the economy, like reining in credit-card companies, but no one could cite major accomplishments that would measure up to the expectations aroused by Obama as a candidate who promised to bring about transformative change.
This Denver group was sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, and Hart’s findings add to a growing chorus of concern among Democrats not directly aligned with the Obama campaign that the president is not connecting with the voters he needs to win.
It’s clearly all about expectations nurtured in the 2008 campaign which unable to meet by external events, administration misjudgments and Republican obstructionism:
Whether it’s a failure of policy or of communications is debatable, but the sense of disillusionment with Obama’s performance is real. “He set up expectations that began 46 months ago, and they only grew over time,” says Hart. He singled out Jeffrey, a 31-year-old Web designer and home remodeler, as the voter Obama most needs and might not get. Jeffrey voted for Obama last time.
So Obama has to win these voters back — and the issue is clearly the economy.
There’s an opening, too, for Romney if he can build on the general impression voters have of him as a good businessman, and “make voters feel comfortable that he’s not going to dismantle everything we have,” says Hart, when it comes to health care and other social support programs.
And this anecdotal finding has to be the most utterly devastating one at all for Obama — something he’ll need to fix soon (if he can):
Asked which candidate these voters would like to attend a baseball game with, nobody wanted to go with Romney except to have him pick up the tab, giving Obama a substantial edge in likability. Both candidates came up short on a more subtle leadership exercise. Asked how each would perform if they were lost in the forest with nine friends, the group concluded Romney would use his super-duper expensive phone to call for help, with Donald Trump and wife Ann Romney topping the call list, while Obama would give a pep talk and then retreat to the sidelines. There’s the campaign in a microcosm.
Can he change this perception?
For Obama, this was a devastating departure from how voters responded to a similar question four years ago, when they said then candidate Obama would work with you, reason with you, and bring out the best in you. This time, says Hart, there was “no sense of leadership.” These are hard-nosed assessments five months out from the election, and the Obama campaign ignores them at its peril. Hart is a highly respected pollster with four decades of experience. Soft-spoken and generally cautious in his conclusions, people pay attention when he sounds the alarm.
It’s an alarm that fits in with the alarm recently sounded by James Carville. Is it loud enough for the White House to hear?
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.