National conventions once gave Presidential campaigns a significant bounce in the polls as TV viewers heard heartfelt speeches in support of a party's ticket and felt a connection with the candidates themselves. Dr. Gary Rose, chairman of the Government & Politics Department at Sacred Heart University, said Bill Clinton enjoyed the biggest bounce in 1992, gaining 16 points on his way to the White House. But that expected momentum has been losing air ever since.
Rose said the Republican National Convention for Mitt Romney and running mate Paul Ryan only resulted in a 1 percent bump, adding that a Gallop Poll gave Romney no convention bump at all. Rose expects a similar outcome from President Barack Obama's convention in Charlotte, N.C.
"The bounces are getting smaller and smaller," Rose said. "It's a very polarized electorate. There's not much in the middle now. Most people today already made up their mind."
Though most registered voters are not affiliated with the Democratic or the Republican parties, Rose said the vast majority of them lean to the right or the left leaving only a small number who can be swayed to one side or the other.
Rose shared this and other insights into the Presidential race in his presentation "The 2012 Election: Issues, Candidates and Why It Matters". The Monroe Democratic Town Committee invited him to speak in the Ehlers' Meeting Room at Edith Wheeler Memorial Library Wednesday night, in an event that was free and open to the public.
Among those in attendance were Amy Todisco, a Democrat running for Judge of Probate in District 46; State Sen. Anthony Musto (D-22), a representative of U.S. Rep. Jim Himes' campaign, Monroe Democratic Registrar of Voters Sue Koneff and some Republicans, including Chadwick Ciocci, who is challenging Musto, and First Selectman Steve Vavrek.
Nicholas Kapoor, Monroe Democratic Town Committee chairman, was pleased that Vavrek and Ciocci decided to come. Kapoor was once a student of Rose's at Sacred Heart.
'Obama is Vulnerable'
Aside from facing Romney, Rose said President Obama has a few significant historical indicators against him.
Only one incumbent President with an approval rating below 50 percent has ever won reelection, Rose said, adding that was Harry Truman.
Once at about 70 percent during his inauguration, Rose said Obama's rating has been below 50 percent for the past several months and is now at 47 percent.
Ronald Reagan was the only President to win reelection with the nation's unemployment rate above 7 percent, according to Rose, who noted that it was trending downward at the time. The unemployment rate is now over 8 percent.
"The unemployment rate puts the President in a precarious position," Rose said.
Rose said polls show that 70 percent of voters believe the country is on the "wrong track" and that close to 60 percent are not confident that Obama will be able to put the economy on the right track.
Likability was once Obama's strong point, but Rose said the President's likability rating recently dropped by 7 points.
Rose said he uses credible national polls such as ABC News and the Washington Post in his research.
Super PAC money has given Romney a tremendous advantage in campaign funds, Rose said. But despite all of the President's problems, Rose said Romney has failed to overtake Obama.
He cited a poll in which Romney leads 47 to 46 percent with a margin of error of 3 points.
"You can really say it's a tie with eight weeks left," he said.
In 2008, the candidate winning a state in the Republican Primaries received all of that state's delegates. As a result, Rose said Sen. John McCain wrapped up his party's nomination early, while the Democrats' rules made for a more drawn out process. The Republicans noted how the Democratic Party candidates attracted media attention when it came down to Obama and Hillary Clinton, while McCain faded into the background.
This time around, the GOP changed its rules allowing losing candidates to win a proportion of the delegates in a state. But Rose said it backfired on Romney, who sustained attacks on his credibility, character and positions on issues during the more competitive process.
"I would say he was a wounded nominee," Rose said. "This was not to his advantage. I don't think the model gave him the stature to take on an incumbent President."
Rose said all of the debates the Republicans had also did not help Romney.
Another factor hurting Romney are attack ads by the Obama campaign painting Romney as a cold, ruthless businessman who only cares about his personal wealth and his business partners, Rose said.
He said this has allowed Obama's campaign to define who Romney is, rather than Romney defining himself.
Rose said one poll shows that only 32 percent of Americans believe Romney favors the middle class. "Romney is seen as only favoring the rich," he said.
"Another problem with Romney is him," Rose added. "A lot of people don't have the gut feeling — the emotional connection with Romney. They don't feel close to him, that he's warm and personal. Often times, choosing a President is really more visceral. Romney looks like a stuffed shirt at times."
During the Republican National Convention, Rose said a film showed him as more human and he believes more films like it may air in TV ads.
The Running Mate
Rose said running mates can either hurt a Presidential candidate or have a minimal impact, adding it only played a big part in a victory once, when Lyndon B. Johnson ran for Vice President on John F. Kennedy's ticket.
Rose believes Congressman Paul Ryan will not hurt Romney and may help him to win Ryan's home state of Wisconsin. He also believes Ryan rounds out the ticket which now includes a former New England governor and a Midwestern Congressman, an outsider and a political insider, a Mormon and a Roman Catholic, and an older candidate and a younger one.
Though running mates historically add little to a ticket, Rose said voters should pay attention to them, because out of 44 Presidents, 14 were Vice President at one time or another.
"There is a very good chance that a Vice President will one day be President of the United States," Rose said.
The Swing States
When a state goes Democrat it's blue and when it votes Republican it's red. "The vast majority of the states are spoken for, though there are a handful of states where it's undecided," Rose said.
He said the Republican territory is in the South, the Plains and the rocky mountain West, while Democrats do well in the Northeast (with the exception of New Hampshire), the upper mid-west and the Pacific Rim, which Rose said Republicans call "The Left Coast."
The undecided states are known as the "swing states". Among them are places such as Florida, Colorado, Iowa, New Mexico and Michigan to name a few.
The number of electoral votes needed to win is 270 and if the election were held today, Rose believes Obama would have 220 votes with only 50 to go and that Romney would have around 190 electoral votes.
"He has to win almost every one of these swing states," Rose said of Romney. "You should follow the votes in the swing states. That's where the Super PAC money is being spent."
Since Supreme Court rulings determined that campaign contributions are the same as free speech, Rose said Super PACs have been able to use unlimited funds from corporations, unions and wealthy donors to advocate for a candidate so long as there is no direct contact with the campaign. But voters do not know who is paying for the political ads and there has been controversy over whether or not Super PACs are truly working independently.
Rose expressed his belief that Super PAC spending will determine the outcome of this Presidential election.
Why It Matters
With a high unemployment rate, debate over the rates of taxation and over health care and social programs, a nuclear Iran, and a national debt over $16 trillion, Rose said it matters whether legislators are Democrats or Republicans.
"It matters greatly which party controls Congress and the White House," Rose said. "We're not in the age of centrist politics anymore. There are consequences with policy. Either we move right and left or we don't move at all. Don't let anyone tell you both parties are the same. I would say it probably matters more in my lifetime because of the polarization that's out there."