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

Former Irish premier John Bruton on Brexit: "Britain should pay for our border checks"

The former Taoiseach says Brexit has been interpreted as "a profoundly unfriendly act"

At Kapıkule, on the Turkish border with Bulgaria, the queue of lorries awaiting clearance to enter European Union territory can extend as long as 17km. Despite Turkey’s customs union for goods with the bloc, hauliers can spend up to 30 hours clearing a series of demanding administrative hoops. This is the nightmare keeping former Irish premier John Bruton up at night. Only this time, it's the post-Brexit border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and it's much, much worse.   

Bruton (pictured below), Taoiseach between 1994 and 1997, is an ardent pro-European and was historically so sympathetic to Britain that, while in office, he was pilloried as "John Unionist" by his rivals. But he believes, should she continue her push for a hard Brexit, that Theresa May's promise for a “seamless, frictionless border” is unattainable. 

"A good example of the sort of thing that might arise is what’s happening on the Turkish-Bulgarian border," the former leader of Ireland's centre-right Fine Gael party told me. “The situation would be more severe in Ireland, because the UK proposes to leave the customs union as well."

The outlook for Ireland looks grim – and a world away from the dynamism of the Celtic Tiger days Bruton’s coalition government helped usher in. “There will be all sorts of problems," he said. "Separate permits for truck drivers operating across two jurisdictions, people having to pay for the right to use foreign roads, and a whole range of other issues.” 

Last week, an anti-Brexit protest on the border in Killeen, County Louth, saw mock customs checks bring traffic to a near standstill. But, so far, the discussion around what the future looks like for the 260 border crossings has focused predominantly on its potential effects on Ulster’s fragile peace. Last week Bruton’s successor as Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, warned “any sort of physical border” would be “bad for the peace process”. 

Bruton does not disagree, and is concerned by what the UK’s withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights might mean for the Good Friday Agreement. But he believes the preoccupation with the legacy of violence has distracted British policymakers from the potentially devastating economic impact of Brexit. “I don’t believe that any serious thought was given to the wider impact on the economy of the two islands as a whole," he said. 

The collapse in the pound has already hit Irish exporters, for whom British sales are worth £15bn. Businesses that work across the border could yet face the crippling expense of duplicating their operations after the UK leaves the customs union and single market. This, he says, will “radically disturb” Ireland’s agriculture and food-processing industries – 55 per cent of whose products are sold to the UK. A transitional deal will "anaesthetise" people to the real impact, he says, but when it comes, it will be a more seismic change than many in London are expecting. He even believes it would be “logical” for the UK to cover the Irish government’s costs as it builds new infrastructure and employs new customs officials to deal with the new reality.

Despite his past support for Britain, the government's push for a hard Brexit has clearly tested Bruton's patience. “We’re attempting to unravel more than 40 years of joint work, joint rule-making, to create the largest multinational market in the world," he said. It is not just Bruton who is frustrated. The British decision to "tear that up", he said, "is regarded, particularly by people in Ireland, as a profoundly unfriendly act towards neighbours".

Nor does he think Leave campaigners, among them the former Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers, gave due attention to the issue during the campaign. “The assurances that were given were of the nature of: ‘Well, it’ll be alright on the night!’," he said. "As if the Brexit advocates were in a position to give any assurances on that point.” 

Indeed, some of the more blimpish elements of the British right believe Ireland, wedded to its low corporate tax rates and east-west trade, would sooner follow its neighbour out of the EU than endure the disruption. Recent polling shows they are likely mistaken: some 80 per cent of Irish voters say they would vote to remain in an EU referendum.

Irexit remains a fringe cause and Bruton believes, post-Brexit, Dublin will have no choice but to align itself more closely with the EU27. “The UK is walking away,” he said. “This shift has been imposed upon us by our neighbour. Ireland will have to do the best it can: any EU without Britain is a more difficult EU for Ireland.” 

May, he says, has exacerbated those difficulties. Her appointment of her ally James Brokenshire as secretary of state for Northern Ireland was interpreted as a sign she understood the role’s strategic importance. But Bruton doubts Ireland has figured much in her biggest decisions on Brexit: “I don’t think serious thought was given to this before her conference speech, which insisted on immigration controls and on no jurisdiction for the European Court of Justice. Those two decisions essentially removed the possibility for Ireland and Britain to work together as part of the EEA or customs union – and were not even necessitated by the referendum decision.”

There are several avenues for Britain if it wants to avert the “voluntary injury” it looks set to inflict to Ireland’s economy and its own. One, which Bruton concedes is unlikely, is staying in the single market. He dismisses as “fanciful” the suggestions that Northern Ireland alone could negotiate European Economic Area membership, while a poll on Irish reunification is "only marginally" more likely. 

The other is a variation on the Remoaners’ favourite - a second referendum should Britain look set to crash out on World Trade Organisation terms without a satisfactory deal. “I don’t think a second referendum is going to be accepted by anybody at this stage. It is going to take a number of years,” he said. “I would like to see the negotiation proceed and for the European Union to keep the option of UK membership on 2015 terms on the table. It would be the best available alternative to an agreed outcome.” 

As things stand, however, Bruton is unambiguous. Brexit means the Northern Irish border will change for the worse. “That’s just inherent in the decision the UK electorate was invited to take, and took – or rather, the UK government took in interpreting the referendum.”