It’s July. But Americans seem to be already asking: When is this thing over?
President Obama leads Republican Mitt Romney by 6 points in a new poll from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, 49 percent to 43 percent. But the underlying message in the numbers is that Americans are already souring on both candidates as negative attacks ramp up and fall inches closer.
The poll shows that the more voters hear about Obama and Romney, the less they like them, by nearly equal measures: 43 percent of Americans say they like Romney less the more they hear, 44 percent say the same about Obama. From NBC’s First Read:
Indeed, the percentages signaling a less favorable impression about these candidates — especially at this point in the race - are greater than what the NBC/WSJ poll showed in the 2004 and 2008 presidential contests.
“This is not characteristic … for July,” says Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted this survey with Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart. “These are numbers you usually see in October.”
Additionally, the president’s favorability rating, one of his chief strengths in the campaign so far, has waned as both campaigns are involved in an increasingly negative ad war, mostly waged in swing states. Obama’s unfavorable rating jumped 5 points from the June NBC/WSJ poll, from 38 percent to 43 percent this month.
On the issues, the poll shows an uneven battle — President Obama is seen as the best candidate for “looking out for the middle class” (by 16 points), “being knowledgeable and experienced enough to handle the presidency” (by 16 points) and “being a good commander in chief” (by 10 points). But Romney outpaces Obama on the crucial issue of handling the economy, 43 percent to 36 percent.
Obama’s task, which he has already set out on in campaign ads, is to minimize Romney’s advantage on the economy and play up his other strengths. Romney seeks to do the same. From the Wall Street Journal:
That last number [being commander-in-chief] comes as Mr. Romney is set to launch a weeklong international trip to England, Poland and Israel in an attempt to buttress his foreign policy credentials. On Tuesday afternoon, he is scheduled to address the Veterans of Foreign Wars conference in Reno, Nev.
“Foreign policy, which is never a Democratic strength, is very much an Obama strength and a strength against Romney,” said Peter Hart, the Democratic pollster who conducts the Journal survey along with Republican Bill McInturff. “Romney has that challenge of passing that commander in chief threshold that all challengers face. … Obama’s position is the strongest that I can remember in my lifetime.”
Romney’s tax returns are a particularly potent issue for voters, the poll found. When asked whether information about the returns affected voters’ view of Romney, 32 percent said they saw him more negatively, and only 4 percent said the information bolstered their view of Romney. Forty percent said the tax returns made no difference, 23 percent said they didn’t know enough and 1 percent were not sure.
The NBC/WSJ poll used 1,000 telephone interviews with registered voters, conducted July 18 to 22. It has a sampling error of 3.1 percent.
Kyle is the Editor of TPM Media’s PollTracker. He graduated from Beloit College (WI) and began working in politics before getting an M.A. in magazine journalism from New York University, where he interned at TPM and the website of The New Yorker.