Did the Romney campaign base its strategy on how Republicans see the economy (and foreign policy)?

Note: I wrote this post before the news surrounding the awful events in Libya and the highly critical response to Romney’s comments on them. For now, let me note that it seems that Romney is following a similar strategy on foreign policy, in that he’s either assuming non-base voters see the world the way the base does or focusing on the base and not other voters. 


It’s long been reported that the Romney campaign has based its strategy around a few ideas: The economy is terrible and people will blame Obama for it. Thus they’ll reject Obama and Romney will win.

Right now that strategy doesn’t appear to be working because, for one, that’s not the way most people see the race. According to a recent poll for The Hill, “A clear majority – 61 percent – of likely voters consider the presidential election to be more of a choice between President Obama and Mitt Romney than a referendum on the president’s first term in office.”

That’s a problem for the Romney campaign. Earlier on, they might have had a chance to affect how citizens see the election, to have the choice be a referendum. But months after the Obama campaign and the media have discussed Romney’s background and policy proposals, it’s too late to reshape citizens’ bases for their vote.

The Romney camp’s strategic choice may have relied on shaping the race around Republicans’ perceptions of the economy. 

Perhaps part of the reason why these Republican strategists settled on what now looks like a flawed campaign plan is that the Republican base sees the economy a particular way and this is their reference point for potential and current supporters.

A new poll from Pew finds that Republicans say they’re hearing more negative news about the economy than either Democrats or independents.

These differences are considerable. A strong majority of Republicans – 61% – are hearing bad news about the economy, compared to 36% of independents and 15% of Democrats.

And today brought an example of bad economic news that’s out and out false. Fox News used the old trick of comparing apples and oranges. As Media Matters explains:

Fox used a dishonest comparison of two different measures of unemployment to suggest the unemployment rate has nearly doubled since President Obama took office.

During a segment criticizing the Obama administration for its messaging on the economy, a Fox & Friends graphic claimed that the “real unemployment rate” had increased from 7.8% in 2009 to 14.7% now.

But in order to make the claim that unemployment had increased from 7.8% to 14.7% during Obama’s time in office, Fox had to conflate two different statistics and completely distort Obama’s jobs record.

The 7.8 percent figure is the official unemployment rate from January 2009. This statistic reports on people who are unemployed and actively looking for a job. But as of the latest report, the official unemployment rate is 8.1 percent (0.3 percent higher than it was in January 2009), not 14.7 percent.

The 14.7 percent figure is a completely different measurement of the unemployed, which in addition to those who are actively looking for work, also counts people who are unemployed and discouraged from looking for a new job, part-time workers who prefer full-time employment, and more. This alternative measure of unemployment, which conservatives often call the “real” unemployment rate, was 14.2 percent in January 2009 — 0.5 percentage points lower than it is today.

Indeed an accurate chart of this statistic would show that the rate has declined in recent years.

This sort of thing is likely why Republicans, who are disproportionately Fox News viewers, would see the economy as much worse as others.

But it’s still unclear Romney’s strategists have the same take on the economy or perhaps believe that the voters they still need have this view.

While a message that the economy is totally in the tank is believable to Republicans, it’s far less so to others who likely have more varied sources of information.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.