Romney is running out of time to turn the US election around

The Republican candidate didn't get the poll bounce he needed from his party's convention.

Despite being overshadowed by a bizarre Clint Eastwood performance and Hurricane Isaac hitting Florida and New Orleans, Mitt Romney managed to make some progress with the American public at the Republican convention last week. But was it enough?

On the eve of the convention, Romney was four points behind Barack Obama nationally and behind the President in all but one of the thirteen personal characteristics we polled on. Following a prolonged and brutal primary campaign, Romney had to use the convention to formally introduce himself to the nation (and not just Republican primary voters). Republicans had one clear aim for the convention, to make  Romney seem more "human", more in touch with average Americans and more likeable. Our Ipsos daily convention polling for Reuters in the US shows that in that respect at least, Romney and the Republicans succeeded.

The tone of the Convention was set by the candidate’s wife, Ann Romney, on the opening day of the convention, who told the audience and the millions watching that she didn’t want to talk about "politics or policy" but wanted to focus on "love" and her "American family" with Romney. She went on to explain why she fell in love with the man she met at a high school dance … because he made her laugh. To followers of British politics this may sound trivial, but in Presidential politics, where electors are voting specifically for a candidate to the top job, strategists believe it is very important. It also seems to be seeping into British politics – remember Sarah Brown? The Ipsos/Reuters poll released on Day One of the convention, which showed that just 26% of registered voters thought Romney was likeable, compared with 54% for Obama, highlighted the problem for the Republican candidate.

Romney’s own speech had its fair share of campaign promises and attacks on President Obama, but it carefully interweaved these with stories about his family (he is a father of five and a grandfather to 18) and "American families", his own struggles and success. Following on from his wife’s speech he spoke about the importance of love, the inspiration and lessons he has drawn on from his parents – he even joked about having better music on his iPod than his running mate Paul Ryan. The stand out section of his speech on family life is repeated below which Tim Stanley in the Telegraph described thus: "On the page it probably reads as clichéd. But in person – coming from dull old Mitt and delivered in a voice that quivered with emotion – it was a revelation".

Mom and Dad were married 64 years. And if you wondered what their secret was, you could have asked the local florist – because every day Dad gave Mom a rose, which he put on her bedside table. That's how she found out what happened on the day my father died – she went looking for him because that morning, there was no rose.

Romney also made a direct – and obvious - appeal to women, perhaps trying to counter the accusations that Republicans are waging a "War on Women" with proposals for anti-abortion legislation among other things[1]. The former Governor of Massachusetts quoted his own mother in asking "Why should women have any less say than men, about the great decisions facing our nation?"

So did it work? Romney’s likeability rating went from 26% on day one to 32% at the end of the Convention. A relative success. He also saw improvements in his ratings as eloquent and will protect American jobs (both up five points) as well as: a good person, represents America, has the right values (all up four points).

However, despite these image boosts, among all likely voters Romney and Obama were level pegging, both on 45% of the vote. Candidates are expected to receive bounces after their conventions, and seven days after the beginning of the Republican convention Romney had still not moved ahead of his opponent. With the Democrats gathering in North Carolina this week, the President can expect his own bpunce, once again establishing a small lead in the national polls. There are three Presidential debates scheduled for the 2012 campaign, the first being on 3 October. These are the only remaining scheduled potential game changing moments left in the race for the White House.

Tom Mludzinski is Deputy Head of Politics at Ipsos MORI

Follow Tom on Twitter @tom_mlud

For Ipsos polling on the USA follow @ipsosnewspolls


[1] It is worth pointing out that women are traditionally more likely to support Democrats than Republicans in any case.

 

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign rally in Jacksonville, Florida. Photograph: Getty Images.

Tom Mludzinski (@tom_ComRes) is head of political polling at ComRes

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BHS is Theresa May’s big chance to reform capitalism – she’d better take it

Almost everyone is disgusted by the tale of BHS. 

Back in 2013, Theresa May gave a speech that might yet prove significant. In it, she declared: “Believing in free markets doesn’t mean we believe that anything goes.”

Capitalism wasn’t perfect, she continued: 

“Where it’s manifestly failing, where it’s losing public support, where it’s not helping to provide opportunity for all, we have to reform it.”

Three years on and just days into her premiership, May has the chance to be a reformist, thanks to one hell of an example of failing capitalism – BHS. 

The report from the Work and Pensions select committee was damning. Philip Green, the business tycoon, bought BHS and took more out than he put in. In a difficult environment, and without new investment, it began to bleed money. Green’s prize became a liability, and by 2014 he was desperate to get rid of it. He found a willing buyer, Paul Sutton, but the buyer had previously been convicted of fraud. So he sold it to Sutton’s former driver instead, for a quid. Yes, you read that right. He sold it to a crook’s driver for a quid.

This might all sound like a ludicrous but entertaining deal, if it wasn’t for the thousands of hapless BHS workers involved. One year later, the business collapsed, along with their job prospects. Not only that, but Green’s lack of attention to the pension fund meant their dreams of a comfortable retirement were now in jeopardy. 

The report called BHS “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. It concluded: 

"The truth is that a large proportion of those who have got rich or richer off the back of BHS are to blame. Sir Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and their respective directors, advisers and hangers-on are all culpable. 

“The tragedy is that those who have lost out are the ordinary employees and pensioners.”

May appears to agree. Her spokeswoman told journalists the PM would “look carefully” at policies to tackle “corporate irresponsibility”. 

She should take the opportunity.

Attempts to reshape capitalism are almost always blunted in practice. Corporations can make threats of their own. Think of Google’s sweetheart tax deals, banks’ excessive pay. Each time politicians tried to clamp down, there were threats of moving overseas. If the economy weakens in response to Brexit, the power to call the shots should tip more towards these companies. 

But this time, there will be few defenders of the BHS approach.

Firstly, the report's revelations about corporate governance damage many well-known brands, which are tarnished by association. Financial services firms will be just as keen as the public to avoid another BHS. Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said that the circumstances of the collapse of BHS were “a blight on the reputation of British business”.

Secondly, the pensions issue will not go away. Neglected by Green until it was too late, the £571m hole in the BHS pension finances is extreme. But Tom McPhail from pensions firm Hargreaves Lansdown has warned there are thousands of other defined benefit schemes struggling with deficits. In the light of BHS, May has an opportunity to take an otherwise dusty issue – protections for workplace pensions - and place it top of the agenda. 

Thirdly, the BHS scandal is wreathed in the kind of opaque company structures loathed by voters on the left and right alike. The report found the Green family used private, offshore companies to direct the flow of money away from BHS, which made it in turn hard to investigate. The report stated: “These arrangements were designed to reduce tax bills. They have also had the effect of reducing levels of corporate transparency.”

BHS may have failed as a company, but its demise has succeeded in uniting the left and right. Trade unionists want more protection for workers; City boys are worried about their reputation; patriots mourn the death of a proud British company. May has a mandate to clean up capitalism - she should seize it.