Obama would romp home here

It would be much easier for Barack Obama to be re-elected in Australia than in the United States.

An overwhelming majority of Australians would vote for Obama if they had the chance. Given a hypothetical vote in a UMR online survey 72 per cent favour Obama and a mere 5 per cent Romney*.

We could not find a single Labor voter who would vote for Romney – they went 89 per cent to 0 per cent – but even amongst Coalition voters, 64 per cent go for Obama and 10 per cent Romney.

Australians like Obama a lot more too. He has a handsome 79 per cent ”favourable” versus 14 per cent ”unfavourable” rating from Australians. Fewer have an opinion on Romney but it is breaking decidedly negative at 15 per cent favourable versus 44 per cent unfavourable.

Australians expect Obama to prevail as well: 65 per cent expect an Obama victory and 9 per cent a Romney victory.

It is going to be a lot closer than this in the US. Myriad presidential polls mostly show the result is line-ball. In most polls there has been only 1 or 2 per cent between them for the last few months. These numbers have not moved much despite Romney’s gaffes, ferocious Democrat attacks on Romney’s business record and personal tax arrangements and Romney’s announcement of his running mate.

On the face of it, Romney does not seem a match for Obama. Republicans did not want him in 2008. While he certainly showed resolution it was a long hard fight for him to secure the Republican nomination this time around, against what looked at least to non-American eyes to be a bunch of extremists and eccentrics.

Obama is a more skilful politician than the often-clumsy Romney. US polls also show he is much more likeable and by decisive margins.

But what Romney does have is the priceless political asset of a simple story to tell. All elections – no matter what the range of issues, the gaffes and scandals – come down to a straightforward winning proposition for the successful party or person. Quite often it is as simple as ”time for a change”.

In a country where economic anxiety is running at very high levels, Romney’s message is that he can fix the economy better than Obama.

He has some traction on this. A Gallup poll in May showed 61 per cent said Romney would do a very good or good job of handling the economy ahead of Obama on 52 per cent. Another in the same month showed 55 per cent thought the economy would be better in 4 years’ time if Romney was president, again ahead of Obama on 46 per cent.Obama, on the other hand, seems through the year to have been testing different core messages. It is never a good sign when your core appeal is not blindingly obvious.

It is hard for Obama to run on his record. His supporters argue he has got more things done than any President since Johnson but that’s not what voters think. A Washington Post/ABC News poll in January showed only 12 per cent thought he had accomplished a “great deal” while 52 per cent thought he had accomplished “not very much” or “little or nothing”.

One possibility he seemed to be exploring was to carefully claim that the American economy was gradually improving and there were numbers, albeit fragile, to support that.

The problem is, voters don’t necessarily believe it. In an August You Gov/Economist poll only 22 per cent thought the US was on the right track, with 62 per cent saying that it is on the wrong track.

It also leaves Obama at the mercy of month-to-month figures on the health of the US economy and at total risk if the European problems trigger a general world downturn.

That then leaves him with the option of shredding Romney. There is plenty of material to work with. Romney’s vulnerabilities are well-known.

He is prone to gaffes that awkwardly highlight his wealth and privileged upbringing. He can be attacked as out of touch and elitist.

He made what now looks like the unfortunate mistake of winning the Governorship of the heartland Democratic state of Massachusetts. That has left him open to charges of lacking core principles as he has shifted multiple positions from those necessary to win centrist Democrats to those necessary to win the Republican primaries.

His business career at the restructuring company Bain Capital can be reframed to portray him as a merciless destroyer of companies and jobs.

But that mode of attack is all a big comedown for a man who won on hope and change and a slogan of “yes we can”.And in a frightened and anxious electorate, it might not be enough against “I can fix this”.

Stephen Mills is Executive Director of UMR Research Pty Ltd.

* Results from questions included in a UMR Research Pty Ltd online survey of a nationally representative sample of 1000 Australians aged 18-plus. Fieldwork was 25 – 30 July.

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