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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Justin Trudeau points the way forward for European politics

Is the charismatic Canadian Prime Minister modelling the party of the future?

Six months after Canadian election day, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party continues to bask in the glow of victory. With 44 per cent of support in the polls, the Liberals are the most popular party amongst every single demographic – men and women, young and old, and people of all educational backgrounds. 

While most European mainstream parties only dream of such approval, this is actually a small dip for the Liberals. They were enjoying almost 50 per cent support in the polls up until budget day on 21 March. Even after announcing $29.4 billion in deficit spending, Canadians overall viewed the budget favourably – only 34 per cent said they would vote to defeat it.

Progressives around the world are suddenly intrigued by Canadian politics. Why is Justin Trudeau so successful?

Of course it helps that the new Prime Minister is young, handsome and loves pandas (who doesn’t?) But it’s also true that he was leader of the Liberals for a year and half before the election. He brought with him an initial surge in support for the party. But he also oversaw its steady decline in the lead up to last year’s election – leadership is important, but clearly it isn’t the only factor behind the Liberals’ success today.

Context matters

As disappointing as it is for Europeans seeking to unpack Canadian secrets, the truth is that a large part of the Liberals’ success was also down to the former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s extreme unpopularity by election time.

Throughout almost ten years in power, Harper shifted Canada markedly to the right. His Conservative government did not just alter policies; it started changing the rules of the democratic game. While centre-right governments in Europe may be implementing policies that progressives dislike, they are nonetheless operating within the constraints of democratic systems (for the most part; Hungary and Poland are exceptions).

Which is why the first weeks of the election campaign were dominated by an ‘Anybody But Harper’ sentiment, benefitting both the Liberals and the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP was even leading the polls for a while, inviting pundits to consider the possibility of a hung parliament.

But eight days before election day, the Liberals began to pull ahead.

The most important reason – and why they continue to be so popular today – is that they were able to own the mantle of ‘change’. They were the only party to promise running a (small) deficit and invest heavily in infrastructure. Notably absent was abstract discourse about tackling inequality. Trudeau’s plan was about fairness for the middle class, promoting social justice and economic growth.

Democratic reform was also a core feature of the Liberal campaign, which the party has maintained in government – Trudeau appointed a new Minister of Democratic Institutions and promised a change in the voting system before the next election.

The change has also been in style, however. Justin Trudeau is rebranding Canada as an open, progressive, plural society. Even though this was Canada’s reputation pre-Harper, it is not as simple as turning back the clock.

In a world increasingly taken by populist rhetoric on immigration – not just by politicians like Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and other right-wingers, but also increasingly by mainstream politicians of right and left – Justin Trudeau has been unashamedly proclaiming the benefits of living in a diverse, plural society. He repeatedly calls himself a feminist, in the hope that one day “it is met with a shrug” rather than a social media explosion. Live-streamed Global Town Halls are one part of a renewed openness with the media. Progressive politicians in Europe would do well to take note.

Questioning the role of political parties today

Another interesting development is that the Liberal party is implicitly questioning the point of parties today. It recently abolished fee-paying, card-carrying party members. While this has been met with some criticism regarding the party’s structure and integrity, with commentators worried that “it’s the equivalent of turning your party into one giant Facebook page: Click ‘Like’ and you’re in the club,” it seems this is the point.

Colin Horgan, one of Trudeau’s former speechwriters, explains that Facebook is “literally a treasure trove for political parties”. All kinds of information becomes available – for free; supporters become easier to contact.

It was something the Liberals were already hinting at two years ago when they introduced a ‘supporters’ category to make the party appear more open. Liberal president Anna Gainey also used the word “movement” to describe what the Liberals hope to be.

And yes, they are trying to win over millennials. Which proved to be a good strategy, as a new study shows that Canadians aged 18-25 were a key reason why the Liberals won a majority. Young voter turnout was up by 12 per cent from the last election in 2011; among this age group, 45 per cent voted for the Liberals.

Some interesting questions for European progressives to consider. Of course, some of the newer political parties in Europe have already been experimenting with looser membership structures and less hierarchical ways of engaging, like Podemos’ ‘circles’ in Spain and the Five Star Movement’s ‘liquid democracy’ in Italy.

The British centre-left may be hesitant after its recent fiasco. Labour opened up its leadership primary to ‘supporters’ and ended up with a polarising leader who is extremely popular amongst members, but unpopular amongst the British public. But it would be wrong to assume that the process was to blame.

The better comparison is perhaps to Emmanuel Macron, France’s young economy minister who recently launched his own movement ‘En Marche !’ Moving beyond the traditional party structure, he is attempting to unite ‘right’ and ‘left’ by inspiring French people with an optimistic vision of the future. Time will tell whether this works to engage people in the longer term, or at least until next year’s presidential election.

In any case, European parties could start by asking themselves: What kind of political parties are they? What is the point of them?

Most importantly: What do they want people to think is the point of them?

Ultimately, the Canadian Liberals’ model of success rests on three main pillars:

  1. They unambiguously promote and defend a progressive, open, plural vision of society.
  2. They have a coherent economic plan focused on social justice and economic growth which, most importantly, they are trusted to deliver.
  3. They understand that society has changed – people are more interconnected than ever, relationships are less hierarchical and networks exist online – and they are adapting a once rigid party structure into a looser, open movement to reflect that.

*And as a bonus, a young, charismatic leader doesn’t hurt either.

Claudia Chwalisz is a Senior Policy Researcher at Policy Network, a Crook Public Service Fellow at the University of Sheffield and author of The Populist Signal: Why Politics and Democracy Need to Change