Voters Talking More About Romney as Attacks Escalate

First ‘Conversation Nation’ report shows talk about both candidates is more negative than positive, which could foreshadow low public engagement in the election.

National Journal
Add to Briefcase
Beth Reinhard
July 18, 2012, 8:37 a.m.

The bar­rage of at­tack ads traded by Pres­id­ent Obama and Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­ee Mitt Rom­ney in re­cent weeks has tain­ted per­son­al con­ver­sa­tions about both can­did­ates, rais­ing early ques­tions about wheth­er the pub­lic will en­gage in the pres­id­en­tial race or de­cide it’s a turnoff and tune it out.

The first weekly “Con­ver­sa­tion Na­tion” re­port, a joint pro­ject of Na­tion­al Journ­al and the Keller Fay Group, a sur­vey re­search firm, finds that 44 per­cent of the talk about the pres­id­ent in early June was pos­it­ive, while 36 per­cent was neg­at­ive. After some ups and downs, 37 per­cent of the Obama talk was pos­it­ive at the start of this week, while 42 per­cent was neg­at­ive.

Con­ver­sa­tions about Rom­ney were not as pos­it­ive in early June com­pared to the pres­id­ent, but neg­at­ive con­ver­sa­tions about the pre­sumptive Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­ee, after zig-zag­ging, did not in­crease over the course of the sur­vey. Talk about Rom­ney shif­ted from 36 per­cent pos­it­ive and 41 neg­at­ive to 31 per­cent pos­it­ive and 38 per­cent neg­at­ive.

Over­all, daily chat­ter about Rom­ney spiked at the end of last week amid mount­ing at­tacks on his busi­ness re­cord and de­mands that he re­lease more tax re­turns. However, the at­tacks do not ap­pear to be fuel­ing a tor­rent of Rom­ney-bash­ing, as least for now.

The shifts in con­ver­sa­tion — 77 per­cent of which oc­curred face to face even as tech­no­logy dom­in­ates daily lives — re­flect the in­creas­ingly bru­tal tone of the cam­paign as polls show the can­did­ates neck-and-neck.

Even with the con­test in high gear, di­et­ing, shop­ping, va­ca­tion, job se­cur­ity and the costs of health care and gas were more pop­u­lar top­ics of dis­cus­sion than the pres­id­ent and the elec­tion. The lack of en­gage­ment is likely to con­tin­ue un­til the nom­in­at­ing con­ven­tions burst onto prime time in late Au­gust and early Septem­ber, after the Sum­mer Olympics. It’s un­clear wheth­er the nasty tone of the cam­paign, if it con­tin­ues, will ul­ti­mately re­pel voters from one can­did­ate or the oth­er or keep them from the polls al­to­geth­er.

The level of in­terest among voters ap­pears to wax and wane with news cycles. Since early June, con­ver­sa­tions about the ad­min­is­tra­tion peaked after the Su­preme Court up­held its health care over­haul and after a dis­ap­point­ing jobs re­port in June. Talk about Rom­ney jumped after news re­ports that de­tailed his former com­pany’s prac­tice of out­sourcing jobs and cri­ti­cism of his cam­paign strategy.

That Obama con­tin­ues to earn more pos­it­ive word of mouth than Rom­ney ““ 37 per­cent com­pared to 31 per­cent ““ sug­gests the pres­id­ent can con­tin­ue to tap in­to a reser­voir of good will des­pite signs that the eco­nom­ic re­cov­ery is stalling. But with neg­at­ive talk about him on the rise, his cam­paign is tak­ing a risk, bet­ting that re­lent­lessly at­tack­ing Rom­ney and tar­nish­ing Obama’s im­age in the pro­cess will pay off in the end.

Obama’s team is try­ing to take ad­vant­age of Rom­ney’s re­l­at­ively lower pro­file at this stage of the cam­paign by go­ing on the of­fens­ive be­fore the pub­lic forms stronger opin­ions about the former gov­ernor of Mas­sachu­setts. While mostly neg­at­ive con­ver­sa­tions about Rom­ney dipped in the last six weeks, “mixed” con­ver­sa­tions have in­creased.

His­pan­ics, wo­men and col­lege gradu­ates are more likely to talk about the pres­id­ent than about Rom­ney. Wealth­i­er adults are hav­ing more con­ver­sa­tions about the Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­ee. Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans, the first black pres­id­ent’s most loy­al sup­port­ers, are most apt to talk about Obama.

About This Poll:

The 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 to 69, to de­term­ine which can­did­ates and is­sues people are talk­ing about and the nature of those con­ver­sa­tions. Ed Keller and Brad Fay are co-au­thors of The Face-to-Face Book: Why Real Re­la­tion­ships Rule in a Di­git­al Mar­ket­place (Free Press: 2012).


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.