One by one, Mitt Romney has failed to capitalize on some of his campaign’s biggest opportunities to gain on President Obama in the polls, let alone sustain any momentum.
The chart below is based on Gallup’s daily tracking polls, which are conducted over seven-day periods, beginning on April 29 and concluding on Sept. 15. Along the trend lines, notable events have been highlighted.
• Jobs numbers
The chart marks the release of the government’s monthly jobs reports for April through August. Though Obama’s campaign is thought by some to be tied inextricably to the health of the economy, Romney has made few substantial polling gains, even in the wake of disappointing jobs reports, which are released on the first Friday of each month to great fanfare. Some commentators have even hyped the jobs reports as a metric to gauge Obama’s re-election chances, while Republicans have used the often-discouraging numbers as evidence to support their argument that the president’s policies have failed. But Romney has never really been in a more advantageous political position following the release of even the weakest reports.
Romney’s most discernible bounce came after the July report, which was released on Aug. 3 and showed that the economy had added 161,000 jobs, exceeding expectations. Even that didn’t trigger much of a bump for Romney in the near-term. In Gallup’s tracking period immediately following the report — conducted Aug. 4-10 — Romney and Obama were tied. The Republican nominee grabbed his first lead of the month in the tracking period of Aug. 7-13, a stretch that also included the days following his vice presidential selection. By the end of the month, the president had re-claimed the lead — an advantage he has not relinquished to this day.
Obama did suffer a clear drop following the June report, which was released on July 6 and showed a tepid growth of 80,000 new jobs. In the tracking period following that release, conducted July 7-13, Obama and Romney were tied. The president had led by 4 points the previous week. But in the very next tracking period, conducted July 8-14, Obama had re-claimed a 2-point edge over Romney. Obama trailed Romney only once on the release date of the last five jobs reports — an indication that any political harm done to the president by the slow employment growth rarely lasted beyond the news cycle.
The particularly weak May employment report that showed a paltry gain of 69,000 jobs had seemingly no real impact on the race, as the two candidates exchanged leads in the weeks following its June 4 release. And the president actually made a 1-point jump in the tracking period immediately following the April report on May 4, which showed below-expectations job growth of 115,000 jobs.
Some conservatives have suggested in recent weeks that Romney has only himself to blame if he loses to an incumbent in such a weak economy. Implicit in that view is that a more adept candidate would have successfully harnessed underwhelming employment numbers.
But Romney’s skills as a politician notwithstanding, the electoral implications of the jobs reports, which always undergo revisions after their release, could be vastly overstated. Polls show that voters still blame President George W. Bush for the bad economy, giving Obama political cover.
Despite the build-up the precedes them, the monthly jobs reports just don’t seem to resonate strongly with average voters.
“People are not looking at these government reports to decide how the economy is doing, or how well they or their neighbors are doing. They know from their own daily experience,” Democratic pollster Mark Mellman told the Associated Press earlier this week.
• Foreign trip
Romney’s foreign trip in July, his first real opportunity to appear presidential on a global stage, is best-known for a series of blunders and verbal miscues, although the chart shows that he was trending downward in Gallup’s polling before he went overseas. But his rocky three-country tour, particularly his visit to the United Kingdom, did nothing to help Romney make a dent in Obama’s decided advantage on foreign policy.
• The Ryan pick
The selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate was hailed by many as a splashy move, but it produced only a minor burst of momentum. Romney did begin to pull ahead of Obama after the Aug. 12 selection — peaking at a 2-point lead — but by the time the Republican National Convention began on Aug. 28, Obama was back up by 1 in Gallup’s tracking.
• The convention
As evidenced by the chart above and other available public polling, the Democrats put on a much more successful convention than Republicans, whose confab is widely remembered for Clint Eastwood talking to a chair.
Obama’s national post-convention bounce has extended to swing states, but there could be some potential for Romney to make gains in the final 50-odd days of the campaign. It remains to be seen what effect, if any, the tension in the Middle East and North Africa will have on the race. There are also three presidential debates slated for October and two more jobs reports between now and Election Day. But if Romney is looking to any of those moments to turn his campaign around, he’s relying on political and exogenous factors to deliver sustainable momentum, something that has not happened yet.
Chart by Christopher O’Driscoll
Tom Kludt is a newswriter for TPM. A former research intern and polling fellow for TPM, he lives and works in New York City. Tom graduated summa cum laude from the University of South Dakota in May of 2010 with a B.A. in Political Science and History. He can be reached at Tom (at) talkingpointsmemo.com.