Who's worse? That's the kind of election debate we're having this year
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One thing is starkly clear from the last month of the 2012 presidential campaign: We are headed toward a lowest-common denominator, devil-you-know-vs.-devil-you-don't election in which the winner will not so much triumph as survive.
The latest NBC-Wall Street Journal poll makes that point in stark terms. Forty-three percent of respondents viewed President Barack Obama negatively, while 40 percent saw Mitt Romney in that light; the percentage of people who regarded Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney "very negatively" was at an all-time high (or low, depending on your perspective). Given the tenor of the campaign, it's not surprising that the public's perception of the two men is so negative.
Given that things are only going to get worse, the prevailing question is: Who wins a race that resembles nothing so much as a political mud fight?
People like the president more than they do Mr. Romney. Mr. Obama has a 30-point edge on which candidate is more likable, an 11-point edge on who understands the problems of average Americans and an eight-point edge on who is more honest and trustworthy, according to new Gallup polling.
While Mr. Obama's positive (and negative) numbers are not where his allies would like them to be, they are still better than Mr. Romney's. And Mr. Romney's numbers not only compare poorly to the president's; they also don't fare well when matched up against other Republican nominees.
This election has been, is and will always be about the economy and Mr. Obama's handling of it. And the public has already made its mind up that they don't like what he has done. In the NBC-WSJ poll, 43 percent of people said Mr. Romney had "good ideas" for the economy, while just 36 percent of people said Mr. Obama did.
The more the president tries to refocus the race on issues such as Bain Capital or tax returns, the more clear it is that he knows he can't win an economic referendum.
And, there's plenty of evidence to suggest that for all their attacks on Mr. Romney, this tack is not working. A USA Today poll showed that more than 6 in 10 people believe Mr. Romney's business experience would help him make good decisions in office.
First Published July 30, 2012 12:00 am