Mitt Romney’s remarks decrying about half of Americans as “victims” are hurting him with at least as many voters, according to a mounting body of evidence.
The latest WSJ/NBC poll read respondents his comments and found 45 percent felt more negatively towards Romney afterwards versus only 23 percent who felt more positive about him. Even worse, the 12 percent slice of voters NBC defines as “up for grabs” had the strongest reaction. Just 10 percent approved of the remarks versus a whopping 49 percent who said the comments diminished their opinion of Romney.
In general, 51 percent of respondents said they heard something in the last couple of weeks about Romney that made them feel less favorable towards him, versus only 28 percent who said something made them feel better about him. For the president, voters said they had heard something that improved their opinion of him by a 38-36 margin.
At least as discouraging, for Republicans, however, is that Romney’s favorite Obama quote — “You didn’t build that” — isn’t even a net drag for the president. After hearing his comments, voters reacted positively by a 36-32 margin overall, and independents and “up for grabs” voters actually approved of them by slightly higher margins.
Romney bet big on attacks built around the snippet, devoting not only millions of dollars in ads but an entire day of the Republican convention to the theme. Its failure to turn the polls may point to larger problems with the GOP strategy of using Obama’s own words against him. A focus group of undecided voters conducted by former Haley Barbour’s firm found that they were resistant to judging Obama by his quotes in comparison to Romney, often because they assumed they were taken out of context.
The NBC/WSJ polling about how negatively respondents react to the 47 percent comment comes on top of similar polls that suggest a high awareness of the story as well. So those who hear it, don’t like it — and lots of people have heard it. A survey by Pew found 67 percent of voters aware of remarks — about half complained they had even heard too much — and they disapproved of the remarks by a 55-23 margin. Another poll by the Washington Post and ABC News found voters disapproved of Romney’s comments by a 54-32 margin, with the effect more pronounced among independents.
The video may be a bigger influence in swing states. Democratic pollster PPP pegged awareness of the Romney video at 89 percent in Florida, with a 50-44 negative reaction. In Colorado they found 90 percent of voters aware of his comments and that group found them inappropriate by a 38-27 margin.
Democrats must be seeing similar numbers in their internal polls: they’re cranking out 47 percent related ads as fast as they possibly can, connecting the remarks to any number of anti-Romney themes.
Kyle Leighton contributed to this post.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.