Following the Republican convention, where Mitt Romney officially became the GOP candidate for president, a steady stream of polls has emerged purporting to show that a majority of people still like Mr. Obama, "personally" – whatever that means with respect to a rather remote political candidate – although a similar majority think he has handled the economy poorly. Conversely, majorities of those polled seem not to "like" Mr. Romney very much, while admitting that they trust him more than Mr. Obama to fix the economy and put people back to work. Polls indicate that a majority of people still blame President Bush more than Mr. Obama for the state of the economy. Pundits call the current race a "dead heat."
These confusing – indeed, somewhat contradictory – poll-results make one wonder exactly how people decide on which candidate to support. More basically, it raises the question of how many of the people who respond to pollsters so ambiguously are likely to cast a real vote, and (if they do) for which candidate. Personally, I doubt that people who think Mr. Obama's performance on the economy has been poor will rouse themselves to vote for him merely because they like his persona – i.e., because "he looks good" (as I heard one radio talk-show caller say).
Voters will often cast their votes for a candidate because they are strongly drawn by his message or promises, and/or by his personal attractiveness. Voters might support him on any or all of those bases, but usually only when he first runs for the office. Mr. Obama did well with many voters in his first campaign because his promises were flowery (but vague) and his persona was attractive. He sounded so visionary and looked so good. People wanted to believe that his vow to "fundamentally change the USA" would mean something positive for them – even though he didn't spell out exactly what that meant.
Now that he has held the office for four years, however, Mr. Obama will have trouble selling most of those same voters on his "Hope and Change" shtick, unless they are totally invested in his presidency for emotional or other reasons – e.g., racial identity, a government paycheck, etc. People who hold private-sector jobs are less starry-eyed about Mr. Obama's "change" this time, except for union members. These are uncertain times for private-sector non-union workers. Some economists put their unemployment/ underemployment rate as high as 20%.
Race is the joker in Mr. Obama's deck, of course. Most political analysts consider him so solid with black voters that they will support him no matter how bad their unemployment picture looks. Undoubtedly, Mr. Obama holds this view himself. But his governing has been disastrous for voters of his race. Black unemployment now stands above 14%, and some economists estimate that for black young men, aged 16-24, unemployment could be as high as 86% – i.e., only 14 of every 100 are employed.
Despite these ruinous statistics – which would normally sink any candidate's prospects with a voting bloc so negatively impacted – Mr. Obama appears to be sailing serenely onward in the expectation that black voters will flock to the polls for him again, as they did in 2008. Polls consistently show black support for Mr. Obama hovering in the 90%+ range. But the unanswered question remains: How many blacks will actually vote for Mr. Obama only on the basis of race, while ignoring the pathetic economy they are suffering under? No one seems to know the answer to this question, although I suspect that some senior advisors do know that the true answer is not good for their side.
Today I heard two political analysts on a radio talk-show discussing the peculiar "anomaly" of a very poor economy producing a near dead heat for the president who has presided over it. One analyst cited polls which seemed to indicate either a tie or possibly a slight lead for Mr. Obama. He opined that it looked like the president might pull out a very close election, despite the financial negatives.
The other analyst was not so sanguine about Mr. Obama's prospects, however. He argued that some polls, which showed a lead for Mr. Obama, were known to have been overpopulated with Democrats. More balanced polls that sampled only expected voters showed Mr. Romney moving ahead. That analyst also cited his own seat-of-the-pants poll (for want of a better term), that measured the political enthusiasm of people in the various circles he interacts with. Nowhere, he noted, has he heard anyone, at any social level, waxing enthusiastic about the prospect of four more years of President Obama. On the other hand, he has heard people guardedly expressing optimism over Mr. Romney – although very quietly.
On this point, at least, I have to agree. I cannot find anyone in my circle of acquaintanceship who will even admit to voting for Mr. Obama – much less say he would vote for him again. Of course, this is all by way of private conversation. In public – where one cannot be sure who is listening – it is rare to hear open criticism of the president or declarations of non-support. Political correctness still governs who can say what about our first black president and his performance in office. Numerous media organs have done much to promote this same restriction.
This curious political climate will, I ween, produce an election-result that pollsters cannot predict. One might call it "poll dishonesty." Only the privacy of the voting booth allows complete honesty that voters are afraid to voice in public. When Election Day arrives, millions of people – some of them of Mr. Obama's race – will enter their voting booths, close their eyes, and ask themselves, "Do I really (really!) want four more years of this?" I believe a great many of them will choose Mr. Romney because their answer to that seminal question will be NO.
Mr. Obama's race was a big deal for many voters. No doubt it was a great thing to see a man with dark skin elected to our highest office for the first time. But there are limits to everything. Making "history" takes you only so far. At the end of the day, it won't pay the bills. You need a job for that, and Mr. Obama is fresh out of ideas on how to produce them. (In truth, he never had any ideas that worked.)
Mental illness is sometimes defined as repeating the same action, while expecting a different result. Pray that the American people will come to their senses and will lay aside the Hope and Change excitement of 2008. Pray also that they will have the wisdom and the courage to choose a man who understands how business works and has vowed to help us and our families. We're overdue on this kind of "change."