Friday, April 20 , 2018, 11:40 am | Fair 62º


Mark Shields: The 2012 Presidential Race Up to Now

Obama, Romney and the battle of the undecideds

President Richard Nixon is one of only two Americans to be nominated five times for national office by one of the country’s two major political parties. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the other. Both FDR and Nixon had identical records in their national campaigns — four wins and only one defeat.

So when Nixon talked about American political elections, he was frequently worth listening to. Consider this insight of his: “It doesn’t matter if they knock down the wall when they vote for you or hold their nose. It all counts the same.”

The most recent NBC News-Wall Street Journal national poll reminded me of that Nixon dictum. Even after disappointing U.S. job numbers, increased American anxiety from the unpredictability of the European economic situation and the solid victory of Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker, President Barack Obama still leads former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by 47 percent to 44 percent.

When respondents were asked if their presidential choice was more a vote for the candidate they were supporting or more a vote more against his opponent, the results totally differed. Seventy-two percent of Obama supporters said theirs was more a vote for Obama, and just 22 percent revealed theirs was basically a vote against Romney.

Romney supporters are just the opposite. Only 35 percent of the probable Republican nominee’s backers say they are voting more for Romney, while a full 58 percent of GOP voters admit they are motivated primarily by voting against Obama. But as Nixon would remind us of those choices, they all count the same.

Because the NBC News-Wall Street Journal survey is written, conducted and analyzed by two of the nation’s most respected pollsters, Democrat Peter Hart and Republican Bill McInturff, I know it is straight and free of partisan tilt. Their three most recent surveys — April, May and June — found the race to be close. Obama led Romney 49 percent to 43 percent in April; Obama’s May lead was 47 percent to 43 percent; while in June, the president led his Republican challenger by 47 percent to 44 percent. The race is within the margin of error, which has to be good news for the challenger whose reputation was not enhanced following his primary season struggles against a flawed field of opponents.

But the news may be even better for Romney if you look at the voters who declare themselves undecided in the presidential race. The undecided voters were 8 percent of the total sample in April, 10 percent in May and 9 percent in June — an average undecided of 9 percent. (By way of comparison, the margin of victory in every U.S. presidential election since 1984 has been less than 9 percent.)

Thanks to Robert Nelson of Hart’s office, I was able to look at who all these undecided voters were in the NBC News-Wall Street Journal polls for April, May and June. Their portrait provides cold comfort to Obama headquarters.

Consider these facts: When asked, “Do you generally approve or disapprove of the job Barack Obama is doing as president,” 47 percent of the total sample interviewed gave Obama a positive rating, while 48 percent disapproved of the job he was doing. Among the undecided voters, Obama’s numbers were 24 percent approval and 55 percent disapproval.

Asked to rate their own feelings toward Obama as very positive, somewhat positive, neutral, somewhat negative or very negative, the total results were 48 percent positive and 38 percent negative for him. But the undecideds’ positive feelings toward Obama were just 28 percent, and their negative feelings were 40 percent.

Romney’s numbers were nothing to write home about. But the point is that the undecided voters are, as of now, not really undecided about Obama. They are, with just over four months until Election Day, down on the incumbent, which is why getting to 50 percent plus in the national surveys is key to Obama’s re-election.

Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him.

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