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).