Fear of the Five Percent
National Review's Jim Geraghty writes today at the journal's online edition about undecided voters in the presidential contest. Geraghty's analysis should hearten Mitt Romney and GOP establishmentarians who've made a near fetish of the small universe of undecided voters. Geraghty claims this group is in the 5% to 8% range of voters.
Yes, the presidential contest is tight, though misrepresented by public polls that are oversampling Democrats, minorities, and youth based on 2008 turnout. And, really, no one should pay much heed to those polls that measure just adults or registered voters. Half of all adults won't bother to vote. And a healthy percentage of registered voters will not cast ballots, either.
So, accepting that the race is close, and the undecideds are a key to Romney's fortunes, here's the profile of undecideds that Geraghty relays:
Democratic pollster Peter Hart and Republican pollster Bill McInturff conducted the NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey and isolated the respondents whom they classified as "up for grabs" - either undecided or leaning only slightly to one of the candidates. Several demographic indicators suggest that the remaining voters are ripe for the picking for Romney: 68 percent are white, 57 percent are married, 53 percent are men, 70 percent think the country is headed in the wrong direction, and 60 percent disapprove of how Obama is doing his job. [Italics added]
Election watchers have grown accustomed to hearing over and over again from GOP flaks that the undecideds have to be approached carefully and handled gingerly, lest their sensitivities are ruffled by Romney offering up candid discussions of the grave issues confronting the nation. And don't -- don't -- criticize the president, counsel the GOP's wise men and women. The undecideds are prickly about critiques of Mr. Obama.
So Romney and the flaks refrain. They tip-toe. They understate. They whisper. They wonk-it. They mute and obscure when they should boldly, confidently proclaim differences with the most failed president since James Buchanan.
Given the percentage breakdowns above, it would seem that Romney's best approach to winning a majority of undecideds would involve stronger messaging that describes Mr. Obama's failures and provides meaningful contrasts between Romney and the president.
From the NRO article, GOP pollster Bill McInturff says this about the undecideds:
"What tends to happen is the vote decision is driven by two things," McInturff said. "Your feeling about the direction of the country - where 70 percent say the country is on the wrong track - and their feelings about the president's performance, which is very negative. I don't think Romney will get 100 percent of this vote, but I do think a chunk will vote and they will disproportionately break to Romney."
Romney should be less tentative in his campaigning, particularly in attempts to grab undecideds, but he seems to be a captive of high-priced consultants, high-paid senior staffers, and Republican establishmentarians who are counseling the governor to proceed with an abundance of caution. The electorate's balance is too delicate, they whisper. Don't take chances. This counsel appears only to reinforce Romney's natural reserve and highly calculating approach.
Displaying some passion and indignation, mixed with smart risk-taking, couldn't hurt the governor or Paul Ryan, either.
2012 was supposed to be an historic presidential election. The election of big, thunderous issues fought out across the republic. Thus far, it's been a minuet more than a slugfest. Leave the mincing and prancing to the president, Mitt. Take your arguments -- boldly -- to voters and the undecided... and win.