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

Photo: Getty Images
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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.