The presidential campaign has entered its final stretch—which means no more debates but plenty of speeches and endless hours of TV ads await in the final sprint to the Nov. 6 election.
President Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney have wrestled each other into a statistical tie, according to most national polls. Those surveys contain multiple lessons about what will shape the final days of the race – especially in Ohio, Virginia and a handful of other key battleground states -- and potentially decide who occupies the White House.
Here are five of the most important lessons gleened from that data and reports from the field:
Saying You Have a Plan Is More Important than What Your Plan Says – President Obama published on Tuesday a 20-page booklet, “The New Economic Patriotism: A Plan for Jobs & Middle Class Security.”
The glossy is no “Dreams of My Father.” Spoiler alert: It repackages his existing promises to create factory jobs, cut oil imports in half, improve education, and reduce the projected budget deficits. But the compilation responds to Mitt Romney’s critique—and questions by the media, including The Fiscal Times, his rather vague agenda for a second-term. Its existence is more critical than its originality.
Similarly, Romney touts his own five-point plan for the economy, even though it does not—as currently explained—show how it’s possible to simultaneously cut taxes, increase military spending, create 12 million jobs in four years, and eventually produce a budget surplus.
“If we’ve got any math teachers out there, you can go ahead and look at this plan,” Obama said yesterday, while holding up his own booklet at a Florida event. “And you’ll see that the numbers work. I won’t be running the okey-doke on you.”
But unlike wonky journalists, voters tend not to dig through the economic proposals by presidential candidates. That’s why both Obama and Romney can gloss over the specifics of how they’d resurrect an economy that—while no longer in recession—is still in the doldrums.
“I put out a five-point plan that gets America 12 million jobs in four years,” Romney said at the Oct. 16 presidential debate on Long Island, just a few hours after the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler debunked the math.
Voters feel pretty confident that they know what both candidates would do in the Oval Office, even when the ideas are either warmed-over or partisan boilerplate. Few details seem to be needed beyond Obama pledging to raise taxes on Americans making more than $250,000 a year in order to shrink the deficit in a “balanced” way, while Romney claims he would lower taxes and bolster spending on national security.
The NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey released Monday found that 57 percent of voters understood Romney’s plans, while 61 percent felt they had a sense of what Obama would do in a second term.
Real World Events Matter – Support for Obama’s foreign policy has been evaporating over the past month, a dramatic reversal of an advantage that previously looked insurmountable for Romney. Obama held a 15-point margin on global affairs in September, according to polling by the Pew Research Center. His lead narrowed to four points this month, 47 percent to 43 percent, Pew reported last week.
It remains to be seen whether the Monday night foreign policy debate will reverse the slide. But what appears to have led to the change was the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans in a terrorist assault this past Sept. 11.
Those four murders undermined a credibility that Obama built with the raid killing Osama bin Laden, the withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq, and putting in place a 2014 exit plan from Afghanistan.
Plenty of other issues—such as China and Iran—have shaped public sentiment on international issues. However, a separate Pew survey showed a marked split with independent voters disapproving of how the administration handled the attack in Benghazi, Libya. It was not, as originally claimed, caused by a spontaneous protest against an anti-Muslim video produced in the U.S. Among independent voters who follow the news, the disapproval was 59 percent to 29 percent.