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

Getty
Show Hide image

Leader: Trump and an age of disorder

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions.

The US presidency has not always been held by men of distinction and honour, but Donald Trump is by some distance its least qualified occupant. The leader of the world’s sole superpower has no record of political or military service and is ignorant of foreign affairs. Throughout his campaign, he repeatedly showed himself to be a racist, a misogynist, a braggart and a narcissist.

The naive hope that Mr Trump’s victory would herald a great moderation was dispelled by his conduct during the transition. He compared his country’s intelligence services to those of Nazi Germany and repeatedly denied Russian interference in the election. He derided Nato as “obsolete” and predicted the demise of the European Union. He reaffirmed his commitment to dismantling Obamacare and to overturning Roe v Wade. He doled out jobs to white nationalists, protectionists and family members. He denounced US citizens for demonstrating against him. Asked whether he regretted any part of his vulgar campaign, he replied: “No, I won.”

Of all his predilections, Mr Trump’s affection for Vladimir Putin is perhaps the most troubling. When the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, warned that Russia was the “number one geopolitical foe” of the US, he was mocked by Barack Obama. Yet his remark proved prescient. Rather than regarding Mr Putin as a foe, however, Mr Trump fetes him as a friend. The Russian president aims to use the US president’s goodwill to secure the removal of American sanctions, recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and respect for the murderous reign of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. He has a worryingly high chance of success.

Whether or not Mr Trump has personal motives for his fealty (as a lurid security dossier alleges), he and Mr Putin share a political outlook. Both men desire a world in which “strongmen” are free to abuse their citizens’ human rights without fear of external rebuke. Mr Trump’s refusal to commit to Nato’s principle of collective defence provides Mr Putin with every incentive to pursue his expansionist desires. The historic achievement of peace and stability in eastern Europe is in danger.

As he seeks reconciliation with Russia, Mr Trump is simultaneously pursuing conflict with China. He broke with precedent by speaking on the telephone with the Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, and used Twitter to berate the Chinese government. Rex Tillerson, Mr Trump’s secretary of state nominee, has threatened an American blockade of the South China Sea islands.

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions. The US constitution, with its separation of powers, was designed to restrain autocrats such as the new president. Yet, in addition to the White House, the Republicans also control Congress and two-thirds of governorships and state houses. Mr Trump’s first Supreme Court appointment will ensure a conservative judicial majority. The decline of established print titles and the growth of “fake news” weaken another source of accountability.

In these circumstances, there is a heightened responsibility on the US’s allies to challenge, rather than to indulge, Mr Trump. Angela Merkel’s warning that co-operation was conditional on his respect for liberal and democratic values was a model of the former. Michael Gove’s obsequious interview with Mr Trump was a dismal example of the latter.

Theresa May has rightly rebuked the president for his treatment of women and has toughened Britain’s stance against Russian revanchism. Yet, although the UK must maintain working relations with the US, she should not allow the prospect of a future trade deal to skew her attitude towards Mr Trump. Any agreement is years away and the president’s protectionist proclivities could yet thwart British hopes of a beneficial outcome.

The diplomatic and political conventions embodied by the “special relationship” have endured for more than seven decades. However, Mr Trump’s election may necessitate their demise. It was the belief that the UK must stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the US that led Tony Blair into the ruinous Iraq War. In this new age of disorder, Western leaders must avoid being willing accomplices to Mr Trump’s agenda. Intense scepticism, rather than sycophancy, should define their response.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era