x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Romney's credible job, but that's about the bounce of it

The Republican presidential candidate was not the recipient of a post-convention bounce this week, and unless something extraordinary happens, there won't be one for President Obama next week either.

Last Tuesday, a top Republican consultant was asked on TV what he thought Mitt Romney had to achieve coming out of the party's national convention in Tampa, Florida. His answer was "a bounce in the polls giving him a lead beyond the margin of error. This will give him the cushion he needs to offset the bounce Obama will get next week".

A lead "beyond the margin of error" is about seven percentage points, but as of Sunday morning, the average of all the latest polls shows: Obama 46 per cent to Mr Romney's 46 per cent. In other words, Mr Romney wasn't the recipient of a post-convention bounce this week and unless something extraordinary happens, there won't be one next week either.

To explain the dynamics of this contest, I asked my brother John Zogby, top pollster of Zogby Analytics, to write a guest piece for readers of The National. Here it is:

"By most accounts, including my own, former Governor Mitt Romney did a credible job in his speech before Republican delegates on Thursday evening. Many delegates and most Americans did not really know Mr Romney, and his major task was to make up for one key deficit - his own personality.

To a lot of outsiders, there may be lack of understanding of why a candidate's personality is even an issue, but in American campaigning, there has always been an important rule: the messenger must be liked before good sized segments of voters will pay any attention to the message. Plenty of presidential candidates have fallen because they simply could not connect with voters.

So Mr Romney showed that he is a real husband, a good father, and genuine family man. And he also revealed the possibility - which few Americans had ever seen before - that he can bruise when he is pinched and bleed when he is cut. He did that and then went on to clearly elucidate his undeniable differences in vision, policies, career and experience from President Barack Obama.

Historically, the exposure that a candidate receives from a well-managed party convention leads to a bounce in the polls. There have been notable exceptions, however. Senator John Kerry, who challenged President George W Bush in 2004, did not get a bounce. Nor did fellow Senator John McCain get much of a boost in 2008. Add Mitt Romney to the list.

Whatever 'bounce' he has got was in the immediate aftermath of the announcement of his very conservative running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan in early August. The Zogby Poll showed that Mr Romney went from a five-point deficit to a tie with Obama. On the eve of this week's convention, the two candidates were tied, to the tenth of a per cent at 45.7 per cent. And a week later all polls have the race still virtually tied.

A look at 12 'battleground states' also shows mainly a race that is tied and frozen. Here a small lead, there a small lead, but nothing significant to show a clear winner.

What is behind the numbers? Mr Obama is doing very well among African Americans and Hispanics, leading substantially among women, but nowhere near the levels of support that he needs among the all-important younger voters who propelled him to the top in 2008. At the same time, Mr Romney continues to dominate among white conservatives and is matching Mr McCain's support among evangelicals. But he seems to have taken a little beating among voters over the age of 65 who are terribly concerned about cuts to beloved Medicare, the US's health insurance programme for seniors.

There is plenty of campaigning to go, perhaps US$1 billion dollars more to spend on about 12-15 million voters, which may actually do more to turn them off than turn them on. Americans really have clear choice this year and, as of now, according to the polls, they have not made that choice quite yet."

James Zogby is president of the Arab American Institute (www.aaiusa.org and @aaiusa)