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Michael Barone on recent polling

Monday, September 17, 2012

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HH: The so-called struggle for the narrative is underway. That is a highfalutin way of saying each side wants you to believe they’re winning. And there’s only one guy I trust in this, and it’s Michael Barone, our own personal decision desk, the national decision desk, the walking, talking Washington Examiner genius when it comes to all matters political. Michael, welcome back, good to talk to you.

MB: Well, it’s good to be with you.

HH: As you know, Rasmussen has Mitt Romney two points up in a likely voter national tracking poll. Gallup has him three points down in a registered voter seven day tracking poll. State polls are all over the place. Mostly, they’re tied. In North Carolina, Mitt Romney’s pulled away, and in Pennsylvania, it looks like Obama’s pulled away. But generally speaking, how do you see the race today, Michael Barone?

MB: Well, I see it as a very close race in which Mitt Romney may or may not be behind. But you know, if you look at the Rasmussen and Gallup tracking polls that you’re talking about, for example, it’s very clear that there’s, two things are very clear. Number one, any so-called convention bounce for Barack Obama is pretty much over. Number two, if you’ve got registered voters showing Obama up three, and you narrow that to likely voters, it would look a lot like Rasmussen’s Romney up two, which is of course based on likely voters that he checks out. I think we need to keep our eye here on the party identification in the polls, of the polling samples, because in some of these, you get what appears to be, to me to be a skewed Democratic sample. Rasmussen’s poll is plus two Democratic in terms of party identification. So that’s one benchmark that you can look at. Other benchmarks are of the 2008 election, which was 39-32 Democratic, plus seven Democratic, and the 2010 off year election, which was 35-35, dead even.

HH: Now I had on the head of the Marist poll last week. I don’t know if you had a chance to read that, Michael, but I asked him about his Ohio poll, because they had a plus ten Democrat sample.

MB: Yup.

HH: And I asked him again and again how that could be justified. And maybe he didn’t understand me, maybe I was inelegant. But I never got an answer to it. Do you think there is a world in which that is justifiable at this stage in the election sampling business?

MB: Well, I have to say that there’s some evidence that the big enthusiasm gap that existed with the Republicans being much more enthusiastic than Democrats about voting, which existed in 2010, most of 2011, that may have narrowed somewhat. I think the Democratic convention, the Clinton speech, the Michelle Obama speech, could have contributed to a narrowing of that. So let’s keep that in mind. Republicans can’t count on that enthusiasm, balance of enthusiasm in favor of them. They’ve got to make it happen. Having said that, it seems to me that a ten point Democratic edge in Ohio sounds improbable to me for the general election, and without going back and checking on the ’08 and ’10 samples in Ohio, it seems to me to be out of line with what we’ve seen with previous things in Ohio. I’d expect a Democratic ID edge of half that or less.

HH: And that would mean, in all likelihood, a tie race in Ohio right now. Now Michael Barone, there is a lot of buzz today, on Monday, about a Politico article that points to infighting at the Romney campaign. Two weeks ago there was infighting at the Obama campaign. It’s just the season for infighting stories. Do these matter at all in the narrative in the election cycle? Or is this just what we have to do to pass 50 days of deadlines?

MB: Well, one argument that’s made by candidates on occasion is that the way they run their campaigns gives you an indication of how they would manage as executives. Obama said that he’d manage his campaign well in 2008, he should be a good executive. Gee, you read the Bob Woodward book, The Price Of Politics, and you sure won’t get that impression. I think my experience in campaigns is that the hard part about running a seriously contested campaign is that you need to distinguish between…you get all sorts of advice. You should change your strategy, you should change your tactics. You have to be able to distinguish between the eight or nine times out of ten when you should ignore that advice, and the one or two times out of ten where you should pay attention to it. I take it that the Romney campaign is paying attention to some advice that it’s gotten, for example, to make set stage speeches where he sets out some of the specifics of his program, makes the argument how his policies could produce the kind of results that voters want. That’s an argument that’s been made by, among other people, Washington Post Right Turn blogger, Jennifer Rubin, who ordinarily provides us with about 6,000 words a day, but is taking the Jewish holiday off. And I see evidence that the Romney people are to some extent making adjustments. They’ve got a new round of ads going up. They want to not just be even, but ahead. So that’s the tricky part of a campaign. If I were advising President Obama, I would have advised him a very long time ago, like on the 3rd of November, 2010, that he needed to do a pivot on public policy approximating what Bill Clinton did in 1995 and 1996, in which helped him, enabled him, really, to win reelection in 1996. If you look at the last three presidential cycles, you’ll see that the winning candidate in each case has gotten exactly the same percentage, or within one percentage of it, of what his party got in the off year election two years before. Well, Obama’s party got 45% in the House elections.

HH: Wow, ouch.

MB: …two years before. That’s a pretty clear signal to change his course. He’s decided not to do that, so we heard a lot at the convention about saving GM and dispatching Osama bin Laden. Didn’t hear much about the stimulus package or…

HH: Yeah, that was the famous…

MB: …Obamacare.

HH: bin Laden is dead, GM’s alive, to which I replied that the threats are growing, the economy isn’t. Let me ask you about last week as we close, Michael Barone. The Romney press conference was the occasion of universal derision of the Manhattan-Beltway media elite. At the same time, the President’s policies led to the spectacle of the U.N. ambassador saying we are not impotent on the weekend. Chris Cillizza wrote this afternoon that look, it’s simply not fair that the media sets the narrative of the campaign and decided wrongly that a single Romney statement mattered more than the broader indictment of Obama’s policies from last week. Who won last week?

MB: Chris Cillizza, of course, that does The Fix political blog for the Washington Post.

HH: Yes. So who won last week?

MB: Pardon?

HH: Who won the week?

MB: Well, I think we saw, again, a media frenzy that certainly gives the appearance of being as coordinated as those attacks on Benghazi, where we saw Paul Ryan lied in his speech, when it wasn’t actually, there weren’t actually any lies that they could cite. But they repeated the story over and over again, and they repeated the story that Romney made a horrendous mistake and showed great error of judgment, when in fact the immediate response of the administration was to adjust the statement of the embassy in the direction which Romney said it should be adjusted at, although they changed course on that again next week. Look, there’s, when you’ve got foreign policy crises and so forth, sometimes there’s a rally around the flag, you know, around the incumbent president, particularly when he’s taken resolute action. But when…you can also have the world in disarray, and we’ve seen what that looks like in 1979-80. And we’ve seen what the response to that is. When you have the Obama people telling you that well, this was, these attacks on Cairo and Benghazi and multiple other locations, attacks on U.S. facilities, murder of a U.S. ambassador were spontaneous attacks in response to a film, and they’ve got everything planned out, have they got the 310 million people covered in the U.S., and somebody’s going to make an anti-Muslim statement that’ll be used as a pretext to whip up mobs to commit acts of war against the United States? I don’t think so. I think that looks like a potential for disarray there.

HH: Not a good week for President Obama. Michael Barone of the Washington Examiner, thank you.

End of interview.

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