Debate Club

If Independents Turn Out, Romney May Have Winning Argument

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While the debate was a draw, the dialogue was a disappointment. It contained too little substance, too many sound-bites, and too much sniping.

National Journal's Ron Fournier has it right: "Obama and Romney scored points while turning off independent voters with their point-scoring." Even though each candidate managed a few well-crafted answers, much of the contest involved accusatory banter and prideful puffery. Where the race goes from here is right to where it's long been headed: towards a tie and a coin toss.

Though Republicans are more enthusiastic, Democrats are more numerous. As such, Republicans and Democrats will likely come close to achieving parity in this year's electorate, and effectively "cancel out" each other's votes. Independents, who mostly dislike both parties and find neither candidate inspiring, are still wondering if it's even worth the trouble to vote.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]

The one piece of good news for Romney that emerged last night in CBS News's "snap poll" was that he is "crushing" Obama on the question of which candidate would do a better job on the economy (65 percent for Romney to 34 percent for Obama). The numbers, however, were reversed for the candidate who would do a better job helping the "crushed" middle class (56 percent for Obama to 43 percent for Romney).

Given the mixed messages, it's helpful to remember that Election Day is going to come down to two things: First, who turns out? If large numbers of independents decide it is worth the effort, Obama may well be in trouble because polling has shown that for most of the year independents have leaned towards the Republican Party and Romney's candidacy.

Second, for those who do vote, the key question will be "what do you think matters more"?

•Your personal situation as a member of the "47 percent" or some other constituency group that Obama's campaign has sought to target with self-interested and particularistic policy appeals (women, minorities, and the youth).

•Or the country's economic situation (economic growth, budget deficits, national debt, and monetary policy) and whether the nation can afford another four years like the last four years as Romney's campaign has sought question.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

If independents turn out in large numbers and voters focus on the nation's issues, Romney's likely headed towards a win. If independents mostly stay home and voters focus on their personal issues, Obama's likely headed towards re-election.

So while the race is still a toss-up, the tone of last night's debate recollected too much of this past summer's "smallness" (attack advertising and opposition gaffe exploiting) to have really helped either candidate advance the ball down the field. In sum, for all the fireworks, the debate was a rather boring display.

Lara Brown

About Lara Brown Assistant Professor of Political Science at Villanova University

Romney, Mitt
2012 presidential election
Obama, Barack

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