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White House Seeks to Expand Training for Manufacturing Jobs

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June 8, 2011, 9:43 a.m.

A Rasmussen Re­ports (IVR) poll; con­duc­ted 10/6; sur­veyed 750 LVs; mar­gin of er­ror +/- 3.6% (re­lease, 10/7). Tested: Gov. Rick Perry (R) and ex-Hou­s­ton May­or Bill White (D).

Gen­er­al Elec­tion Match­up

- Now 9/22 8/22 7/13 6/16 5/13 4/14 3/3 2/1 1/17 R. Perry 53% 48% 49% 50% 48% 51% 48% 49% 48% 50% B. White 42 42 41 41 40 38 44 43 39 40 Oth­er 2 3 3 2 5 4 2 3 5 4 Un­dec 4 6 7 7 8 6 6 6 8 6

The Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial nom­in­a­tion is es­sen­tially settled. A wave of polls, fo­cus groups, and oth­er sur­vey re­search is tak­ing the tem­per­at­ure of the race, with cer­tain clear themes emer­ging.

Even though pre­sumptive nom­in­ee Mitt Rom­ney has spent the last year and a half al­most ex­clus­ively fo­cused on cur­ry­ing fa­vor with his party’s con­ser­vat­ive base — quite of­ten ant­ag­on­iz­ing oth­er voters, in­clud­ing in­de­pend­ents and swing voters — this race is very close. The Real­Clear­Polit­ics av­er­age of re­cent polls shows a lead for Pres­id­ent Obama of 3.1 per­cent­age points, 47.6 per­cent to 44.5 per­cent. The Huff­post Poll­ster es­tim­ate is 2.2 per­cent­age points, 47 per­cent to 44.8 per­cent.

In a sep­ar­ate and slightly older na­tion­al sur­vey of likely voters by Green­berg Quin­lan Ros­ner for the Demo­crat­ic Corps/Wo­men’s Voices and Wo­men’s Vote Ac­tion Fund, taken March 29-April 4, Obama led by a single point, 48 per­cent to 47 per­cent. Pre­sum­ably, as Rom­ney shifts his mes­saging to­ward swing voters, oth­er polls may be­gin to look like this one.

Last week, Demo­crat­ic poll­ster Peter Hart con­duc­ted one of his peri­od­ic fo­cus groups, sponsored by the Uni­versity of Pennsylvania’s Annen­berg Pub­lic Policy Cen­ter. After listen­ing to more than two hours of the con­ver­sa­tion, I con­cluded that most of this Tampa, Fla.-based group of Re­pub­lic­ans and in­de­pend­ents who fre­quently sup­port GOP can­did­ates will ul­ti­mately sup­port Rom­ney. Yet they do not feel at all per­son­ally bon­ded to the former Mas­sachu­setts gov­ernor; in­deed, most were set to vote against Obama rather than for Rom­ney. It wasn’t so much that they didn’t like Rom­ney. They clearly felt that they didn’t know him, and that he owes his front-run­ner status more to his op­pon­ents’ short­com­ings and to ads by and for Rom­ney at­tack­ing his rivals. These voters said they didn’t have enough in­form­a­tion to sup­port him out­right. The lack of a per­son­al con­nec­tion to Rom­ney was strik­ing.

The good news for Rom­ney: The gen­er­al-elec­tion cam­paign ads in­tro­du­cing him to voters and aim­ing to drive up his pop­ular­ity with swing voters will un­doubtedly shore up his stand­ing among Re­pub­lic­ans, too. But the fo­cus group un­der­scores the ne­ces­sity for the Rom­ney cam­paign to make him a more mul­ti­di­men­sion­al fig­ure, to warm up his im­age, and to make him seem a more com­pel­ling per­son­al­ity.

Con­ver­sa­tions with prom­in­ent Re­pub­lic­an strategists who are not of­fi­cially con­nec­ted to the Rom­ney camp ex­pand on that idea. These dis­cus­sions sug­gest that an im­age of be­ing simply a com­pet­ent “fix-it” guy who can man­age the eco­nomy isn’t enough. Rom­ney needs to es­tab­lish a pos­it­ive vis­ion for the coun­try. He needs to move bey­ond re­cit­ing pat­ri­ot­ic songs, as he is prone to do in speeches.

An­oth­er theme evid­ent from polling is that most voters still like Obama per­son­ally. A clear ma­jor­ity of in­de­pend­ents still like him. Even about half of the Re­pub­lic­ans in the Uni­versity of Pennsylvania fo­cus group liked him or had something pos­it­ive to say about him.

Some ana­lysts mis­takenly think that per­son­al feel­ings and fa­vor­ab­il­ity rat­ings are the same as job-ap­prov­al rat­ings. Al­though it is al­ways bet­ter for a can­did­ate to be liked than dis­liked, for an in­cum­bent the per­cep­tion of per­form­ance and ef­fect­ive­ness mat­ters far more than likab­il­ity. Voters didn’t turn sour on Pres­id­ent Ford in 1976; they just voted for change. In­de­pend­ent voters like Pres­id­ent Obama, but the ques­tion is wheth­er they think he has done a good job.

Re­pub­lic­ans should take note that some of the per­son­al at­tacks on Obama strain cred­ib­il­ity. At­tacks on his ef­fect­ive­ness are less likely to do so.

Watch Obama’s job-ap­prov­al rat­ing in the com­ing days to see if there is a re­ac­tion to the re­treat of gas­ol­ine prices. Last week, his ap­prov­al rat­ing ticked up 1 point in the weekly Gal­lup com­pil­a­tion from 47 per­cent to 48 per­cent, and the three-day av­er­age moved up to 50 per­cent. Only once, March 28-30, had the pres­id­ent’s three-day ap­prov­al touched 50 per­cent since early June, just after Osama bin Laden’s death. One roll could eas­ily be stat­ist­ic­al noise, but that it happened just after gas­ol­ine prices dropped a nick­el could be worth not­ing.

The Ir­ish-based web­site In­trade, an on­line pre­dic­tions mar­ket, gives Obama a 60 per­cent chance of reelec­tion. The sur­vey re­search, though, doesn’t bear out that bullish fore­cast. An Obama vic­tory is con­tin­gent upon an­oth­er ex­traordin­ary level of turnout among minor­ity and young­er voters. He also needs to win close to a ma­jor­ity of in­de­pend­ent voters. In­de­pend­ents, however, still look at the pres­id­ent with grave skep­ti­cism and have bad memor­ies from his first two years in of­fice. So far, little evid­ence in­dic­ates a re­prise of 2008’s en­thu­si­asm among minor­ity and young­er voters. (The new NBC News/Wall Street Journ­al poll in­dic­ated a dis­tinct lack of en­thu­si­asm among young­er voters.)

Obama’s vis­its to col­lege cam­puses this week are just a down pay­ment on his ef­forts to re­build the co­ali­tion that cata­pul­ted him to the Oval Of­fice. Re­ignit­ing young voters’ en­thu­si­asm might be easi­er than win­ning back in­de­pend­ents, who are look­ing for a more mean­ing­ful eco­nom­ic re­cov­ery be­fore they are will­ing to re­join the Obama team.

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