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Nourafshan: Post-convention politics and shifting perceptions of competence

BY GUEST COLUMN | SEPTEMBER 17, 2012 6:30 AM

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With unemployment still hovering above 8 percent, exploding national debt, and one of the nation’s most polarizing presidents in office, it should be easy for the Republicans to win the White House in 2012. Poll numbers released following the Democratic and Republican National Conventions defy this intuitive logic, however, given that President Obama’s lead over Gov. Mitt Romney has increased by several points, narrowing the possibility of a Republican victory in November.

The combination of a weak candidate, a sloppy campaign, and a deafness to the political climate of the country has poised Romney to lose one of the most winnable elections of the last century.

Mitt Romney, for all of his business bona fides, is not a particularly strong political candidate: His campaign has appeared ad hoc and prone to gaffes, and the candidate has failed to formulate satisfactory policy positions on a range of topics.

Where Romney has taken a strong stand, he is often contradicting a previously held conviction, leading the public to question whether he could be a trustworthy leader. A recent report by the American Enterprise Institute shows that likely voters trust Obama over Romney on Medicare and Social Security and that Americans ultimately expect Obama to win the election: 61 percent of likely voters predict the president will be re-elected, and as even the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute concedes, “The American public has a pretty good track record in forecasting the winner of presidential elections.”

More alarming for Romney is the latest New York Times/CBS poll, revealing a shift in Obama’s favor on which candidate will do a better job handling the economy: Although Obama’s lead on the economy is within the margin of error, he has made a significant comeback in this area, given that polls as late as July favored Romney on economic issues by large margins.

Romney’s economic expertise has been touted as his central qualification for presidency, yet with more Americans viewing Obama as equally or more competent on this issue, Romney may have squandered this advantage, making it all the more difficult to beat the incumbent.

If Romney attempts to moderate his views, he runs the risk of alienating the party base he has worked so hard to please. Conversely, if he espouses “severely conservative” views, he will surely lose appeal to less ideologically extreme voters.

Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate is a prime example of an attempt to appease the increasingly extreme base of the Republican Party while running the risk of disaffecting moderate voters. Romney’s selection of Ryan has linked his candidacy to the most unpopular Congress since polling began on the popularity of Congress — the Congress that prioritized debating personhood and “legitimate rape” over jobs legislation. Needless to say, this is not a good strategy for attracting nonpartisan moderates with an interest in economic recovery.

In spite of vacillating public confidence in Obama’s competence, he has always maintained a distinct “likeability” advantage over Romney. Perhaps for the large segment of the American polity, which is too busy Keeping up with the Kardashians to pay attention to politics, it will be likeability, rather than policy positions, that will decide the 2012 race. For the remaining engaged undecided voters, however, the positions staked out at the debate could tip the balance of the election, raising the stakes for Romney in particular. Without exceeding expectations at the debates, Romney will effectively ensure a second term for Obama.

Alexander Nourafshan
University of Iowa College of Law student


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