The upcoming elections in November are not just an important, standalone political contest; they are the fulcrum on which our entire country will fundamentally shift. The big uncertainty is whether Obama and the Democrats are poised to be the big victors.
Such were the questions posed – and addressed by political analysts Peter D. Hart and Bill McInturff, who spoke during the second Tuesday morning keynote session of the AALU’s Annual Meeting, held in Washington, DC.
Hart is a leading analyst of public opinion, and is the chairman of Peter D. Hart Research Associates. McInturff runs Public Opinion Strategies, a leading political consulting firm. Together, Hart and McInturff have provided NBC News and the Wall Street Journal with polling data since 1989, and are regarded as some of the most respected pollsters in Washington.
Hart took the stage first and noted that the United States is in an era of total transformation, and that the power shift that is occurring across the country, but especially in Washington, is permanent. “Everything is moving, from nation-states down to local communities,” Hart said. “it changes how we live.”
In an age where winners and losers rise and fall with alarming speed, Hart said, the riskiest position for any company or organization to be in is that of “biggest, best, first and most.” Citing the significant market and reputational reversals of companies such as Citibank, Goldman Sachs, BP and Wal-Mart, Hart noted that opinions turn quickly, and no position is unassailable.
This was the context in which Hart proceeded to detail what his firm’s polling data suggests about President Obama’s current chances of winning re-election. November, Hart said, would be decided on macro factors that spoke to big issues that affected large numbers of people.
Case in point: Hart noted that it has been a full decade since a majority of Americans polled said consistently that they felt the United States was headed in the right direction. That is the longest period of pessimism in two generations, Hart said. At present, he said only 33% of Americans say things are heading in the right direction.
Optimism regarding the overall economy has improved, “but it remains a long way from upbeat,” Hart said. The key on this factor is whether Americans feel the economy has troughed and is on the way back upward. “In terms of confidence,” Hart said, “we’re not there yet.”
To further underscore that point, Hart noted that Americans feel that America’s place in the world is uncertain against the rising fortunes of world powers such as China, Japan or the European Union. For the first time in 13 generations, Americans feel that they will not have more prosperous lives than their parents. Finally, the public has lost its sense of trust in large institutions, but particularly in the news media and in the financial services industry. [No comment on what that means for news media that cover financial services. -Ed.] All of these negatives constitute the kind of political headwind Obama and the Democrats must face between now and November.
But there are larger Demographic trends that favor Obama, Hart said. Whites comprised 80% of the population in 1980; by 2030, they will be just 55%. Latinos will increase from 6% to 23%. People under the age of 25 are sliding down from 41% of the population to 33%, while people age 65 and over are up from 11% to 21%. Texas, one of the most reliably red states in the Union, will be as reliably blue – “as blue as California” – by 2030 as well, just another bellwether of the deep, context-altering changes afoot in the country and likely to make themselves felt in how the November elections play out. For Obama, Hart noted, the African-American, Hispanic and young vote will all be central.
Hart compared the competing philosophies of Obama and his likely rival, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Over 70% of Americans polled said that seeing Obama as a candidate that would fight for economic fairness and social equality would make them more likely to vote for him. In contrast, some 65% of polled Americans said that seeing Romney as a candidate of economic freedom and small government would make them more likely to vote for him. Ultimately, however, those with a strong willingness to vote for Obama outnumber those with a strong willingness to vote for Romney. Obama has successfully reached a broad spectrum of Americans with broad ideas, Hart said, which the Romney philosophy tends to resound more with the Republican faithful. Given how much the election is likely to center on undecided voters, Hart suggested, this favors Obama.
“Romney has a good message,” Hart said. “But he needs more from this message than what he currently has.”
Next page: See which voters favor Obama or Romney
Overall, the election is currently in Obama’s favor across a broad swath of voters:
45% Obama / 45% Romney
53% Obama / 41% Romney
47% Obama / 44% Romney
44% Obama / 34% Romney
44% Obama / 49% Romney