To see if the Romney-as-Lord-of-Bain-Capital narrative really works means stepping a bit beyond the Beltway chatter about it. That means putting on some miles between you and the D.C./Maryland/Virgina corridor (affectionately known as the “DMV”). Let the streets in many a metro area tell it and most are not even certain what a Bain is. And, yes, there are some who don’t even know who the Republican nominee is … much less care. Data suggests that will change as get closer to Election Day.
What most – the “most” who know Mitt Romney – do know or understand is that the former Massachusetts Governor is a very successful capitalist. In that sense, conventional wisdom suggests the Bain Capital narrative is an easy sell. A recent YouGov/Economist poll found 36% of Americans believe Romney loves to axe workers compared to 24% who don’t. Curiously, that’s only 60% of the public – which leaves one to wonder about the undecided 40%. That’s a lot of 40%.
We assume that associating Romney with being a wealthy, uncaring Bain capitalist diminishes his chances of being elected. That assumption comes from the populist haterade of us 99% versus the 1% – but there’s not a whole lot of Occupying going on these days either due to the intense heat or activists not getting any momentum from the general public.
Random, informal surveys in the grocery store line or the barbershop suggest Occupy was written off quite a while back. Despite a Wall Street-fueled recession and the here-we-go-again of the Libor scandal, the anti-rich vibe is not as strong. Folks still love watching unjustifiably wealthy celebrities cat-fight on reality television. Cable networks from MTV, BET to VH1 still pimp bling as if a financial meltdown never happened. Mass crowd hip-hop entertainers like Jay-Z and Kanye West can still make sickening amounts of loot off tracks that offer little in the way of empathy for the poor. Contemporary cultural messaging is still heinously absorbed in get-rich-quick schematics. A recent GlobeScan poll finds that 58% of us feel the rich deserve their wealth.
It’s not that we hate rich people – it’s probably, more or less, that we want to be like them … and hate the fact that we’re not. Of course, we get mad at any hint of them making it harder for the rest of us or getting an unfair leg up. Which is why the polling changes on the subject of taxation: a post-Tax Day CNN/ORC poll showed 68% of Americans feeling tax laws benefited the wealthy while being unfair to most average workers; FOX News polling showed 75%.
How this translates for Romney is a big question in President Obama’s attempt to define him. Do people really care about the Bain thing … in the general scheme of things? Last we heard, just a week ago, poverty is at its highest level in 50 years: 15%. The President’s most recent campaign suggests some awareness of that, with the incumbent himself in the commercial making a rather early appeal to make “The Choice”:
Pundits and political observers whine that this is too early of an appeal; but, the fact that campaigns start much earlier in modern politics makes that point moot. Nothing is too early or off limits anymore – both campaigns have gone ultra negative long before the conventions.
What’s interesting is that Team Obama could be quietly acknowledging that the Bain narrative has ran its course or it wasn’t resonating with the average public as much as it would have liked. Even while pushing Lord Romney of Bain, the President’s polling averages still hovered in the mid-to-high 40s, which showed something of a disconnect between what political junkies might like to hear and what Jane and Joe want to see. But, Romney hasn’t gone anywhere above the 40s either.
At this stage, the President has to make a quick pivot from focusing so much on the character of his opponent and more on the climate of the economy. The numbers suggest that’s where the public wants both candidates.