To win this election, Mitt Romney needs to win over the swing voters. Swing voters, or “independents” as they’re sometimes called, are the people most likely to say things like “I vote for the person, not the party.” Most people don’t think critically about their politics, regardless of what they are, but swing voters have neither ideology nor group loyalty to guide their decisions. Some see no significant differences between two candidates; others find both candidates too extreme for their tastes. Being pro-“person” rather than pro-party, they are most likely to vote for the person they find personally appealing, i.e. the one they think seems most intelligent, honest, compassionate, or whatever quality (or qualities) they deem important for the job. They will vote for the person who inspires them more–or, failing that, the one who scares them less.
As I’ve said before and/or elsewhere, Mitt Romney is an impressive man, but his biggest weakness as a candidate is his inability to connect personally with voters. That does not bode well for his success with independents. Lots of people may be disappointed in Barack Obama’s performance, but most of the folks who voted for him the first time will vote for him again because they still like him personally and give him the benefit of the doubt–maybe he really does just need more time to fix this mess the country’s in. They understand that the President inherited an economic disaster and they don’t see that he’s necessarily made things any worse. The Affordable Care Act hasn’t even taken effect yet, so how do they know whether or not it’s any good? Mitt Romney, on the other hand, has never been President before, so who really knows what he’d do? Plus, he’s really rich and in his career as a venture capitalist was responsible for lots of people losing their jobs. That never plays well in Peoria. (Never mind that if companies don’t cut costs, they end up failing, and failed companies employ no one. That’s hardly the point. The point is that decent people don’t cause other people to lose their jobs.)
[Note: I don’t mean to imply at all that swing voters don’t care about actual issues. Of course they care about issues. Everyone cares about issues. But swing voters are unpredictable on the issues, hence all the swinging. Independents who ordinarily vote Republican for economic reasons may be convinced to vote for an individual Democrat if they become convinced that this individual Democrat won’t screw up the economy. Or they may not. Who knows? That’s the point.]
Incumbents always have a strong advantage. People are wary of change (unless it’s accompanied by hope, of course), and it’s comforting to have the same guy continue in the job, even if he’s not doing it as well as they’d like him to. Barack Obama is the President of the United States, and as such he automatically gets plenty of press coverage. It doesn’t even have to be super-positive press coverage to be helpful. So long as they’re not running stories on him injecting sleeping nuns with cocaine, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. People like familiarity. (Anyway, I’m not sure his strategists couldn’t spin Nun-gate favorably; he’s an awfully likeable guy.)
So my money says–has always said–that Pres. Obama will be re-elected in November. Unless something really weird happens, like he goes on a murderous rampage of everyone most likely to vote for him. Independents will either give him a second chance, will hold their nose and vote for him because at least he’s not a rich guy who fired people, or they’ll stay home and not vote. Certainly some folks will stay home and not vote this year, and those folks will not be Republicans–but I wouldn’t bet on independent voter turnout being so depressed that Mitt Romney wins.
All over the Facebook people are saying that the Paul Ryan pick has clinched the election for Pres. Obama, but I disagree. Pres. Obama always had the election clinched. I don’t think there’s a single Republican out there whom Mitt Romney could have picked as a running mate who would have helped him win this election. That is why I don’t think picking Paul Ryan was a mistake. Which Republican appeals to swing voters right now? Are there any swing voters thinking, “Man, if only Romney has picked so-and-so, then I could bring myself to vote for him”? If Mitt Romney wins this election, it will be because a miracle occurred and a substantial number of independent voters became persuaded that the conservative strategy for solving our country’s problems is the more viable one. Paul Ryan is an articulate spokesperson and very handsome besides (did you see him push that old lady off the cliff? dreamy!), so if anyone can sell it to a skeptical, non-ideological constituency, he can. But I’m not sure anyone can. So does it really matter that Mitt Romney picked Paul Ryan and not Rob Portman or Tim Pawlenty or Bobby Jindal or Chris Christie or Marco Rubio or whoever I’m forgetting was supposed to be on this list of possible VP picks?
Well, I like Paul Ryan, but I’m a right-wing kook, so my feelings don’t matter. As someone who isn’t expecting my team to win anyway, I have to admire Mitt Romney for his boldness here. (I didn’t know the most circumspect man on earth had it in him.) It certainly clarifies the choice between the Democratic option and the Republican one. Obviously, the choice was always clear to those of us already committed, but independents, as I said, are a different breed. Anyway, as I said somewhere on Facebook, at least Romney-Ryan will go down in a blaze of glory. To lose with Rob Portman would just be embarrassing. (Not to mention boring.)
P.S. I was going to say how much I’m looking forward to the Paul Ryan-Joe Biden debate. But I was looking forward to pretty much anyone debating Joe Biden. If only vice-presidential debates counted for anything!