As the presidential campaigns paused in the wake of a national tragedy, so too did Americans.
“Conversation Nation,” a project of National Journal and the survey research firm Keller Fay Group, found that in the days following the mass shooting in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater that left 12 people dead, conversations about both presidential candidates tapered off. While 40 percent of adults said that they had talked about President Obama in the previous 24 hours on the Thursday before the shooting, that figure dropped to 33 percent by Saturday.
Similarly, while 25 percent of adults reported having a conversation about Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney that Thursday, the number declined about 2 percentage points by week’s end.
At this point in the presidential race, the advantages of incumbency appear to be written all over the data. Over the last two months, the results show, a greater percentage of Americans consistently have discussed the president than have talked about Romney in their daily conservations. In mid-June, chatter about both men reached its peak, but while 42 percent reported talking about Obama, only 30 percent said they had a conversation about Romney, reflecting that the former Massachusetts governor is still in the process of introducing himself to some voters.
The Obama campaign, of course, is trying to complete that task for him with a barrage of attacks in the weeks before both parties’ conventions, trying to define Romney as an out-of-touch, capitalist vulture with an outsourcing record to boot.
Is the all-out assault having an impact?
The evidence seems to point in that direction—in the last week alone, Romney suffered a 7-point drop in positive conversations, from 31 percent to 24 percent. Meanwhile, almost half—48 percent—of the conversations about him were negative. Moreover, almost a quarter of conversations about Romney revolved around an ad they’d seen about him, compared with 19 percent of conversations about Obama, indicating that voters impressions of Romney, more so than Obama, are being informed by political commercials.
Obama’s much-touted “likability” factor is also manifest in the results, although that may change depending on economic conditions and the negative tenor of both campaigns.
Twenty-nine percent of Obama conversations were about “liking the candidate,” compared with 23 percent for Romney. Conversely, 35 percent of Romney conversations are about “disliking the candidate.” The figure for Obama stands at a slightly lower 32 percent.
And while the campaigns are largely targeting voters in swing states, there’s only a 2 percentage point difference between how much Americans in those regions are talking about the candidates versus the rest of the country—42 percent of those in battleground states reported having a conversation about either candidate, while 40 percent of those in the rest of the country did. The difference for Obama is slightly more pronounced—38 percent of Americans living in the battlegrounds identified by National Journal talked about Obama, versus 34 percent who lived in the rest of the states.
Finally, despite the relentless obsession within the Beltway about Romney’s choice of vice president and what it could mean for his prospects in November, vice presidents appear to be particularly low on Americans’ radar if their conversations are any indication. The percentage of Americans who have reported discussing either Romney’s many VP possibilities or even Vice President Joe Biden has never climbed past 10 percent.
About This Poll:
National Journal and Keller Fay Group, a survey research firm, have partnered to track Americans’ online and face-to-face conversations about the 2012 presidential race. Each week Keller Fay’s TalkTrack® research service interviews a nationally representative online sample of approximately 615 Americans aged 18-69, to determine which candidates and issues people are talking about and the nature of those conversations. Ed Keller and Brad Fay are coauthors of The Face-to-Face Book: Why Real Relationships Rule in a Digital Marketplace (Free Press: 2012).