CAMPAIGN 2012

Talk About Candidates Tapers Off After Colorado Massacre

Second “Conversation Nation” report shows more Americans have been discussing Obama than Romney over past two months.

Naureen Khan
July 25, 2012, 9:10 a.m.

As the pres­id­en­tial cam­paigns paused in the wake of a na­tion­al tragedy, so too did Amer­ic­ans.


GRAPH­IC: Talk Track­er

“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).

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