I spent the last three days backpacking in Wind Cave National Park, a tiny slice of Black Hills terrain. I won't bore you with the slides except to say that I finally managed to see a herd of elk in the wild. About twelve of them wondered just past our camp last night. They are really big, like deer on steroids. It was magnificent.
Three days without news flushed out my system a bit. I am proud to say that I didn't think about the election more than twice and that very briefly. When I did get back in the car, I was curious to see what three news days had accomplished.
I heard Joe Biden on the radio. So he is still alive! He is also still Joe. He said this recently: "Folks, where's it written we cannot lead the world in the 20th century in making automobiles?" Actually, I am pretty sure that that is written in lots of places. I am also sure we ought to be more concerned about the century we are actually living in. And then there is this jewel:
Biden's rhetorical belly-flop yesterday was a doozy. He first told a largely black audience in Danville, Va., that he hoped they could help Obama win North Carolina. He followed that up with the claim that Mitt Romney wanted to "unchain Wall Street." He then switched to a comic down-home accent and bellowed, "They're gonna put y'all back in chains!"
"Y'all"? Now I happen to think that 'y'all' is a wonderful Southern construction. If widely adopted, it would provide English with a genuine second person plural. However, when a politician from Delaware addresses a Southern audience with that word, whether White or Black, he is asking for trouble.
Obama is burdened with Biden. Romney now has Ryan. How is that going? I checked Gallup first. Their seven day average gives Romney a two point lead. No sign of a Ryan thrust or a Ryan drag, there. The other thing that Gallup displays prominently on the right of their main page is the President's approval rating. The three day average shows an approval/disapproval rating of 44%/50%. Those numbers have been moving south for Mr. Obama and haven't improved post-Ryan.
Gallup leads today with a poll of Obama's rating on individual issues. Here are the results:
That strikes me as, well, striking. President Obama gets strong approval on terrorism. That is, however, the only issue on which he is above 50% approval. Education and Foreign Affairs are the only issues on which he is above water. Look at Immigration, Jobs, the Economy, and the Deficit. His approval is in the 30's in each case, and disapproval is well over 50%. His worst showing is on the deficit and no wonder. Still, the numbers most likely to influence the election are jobs and the economy. According to the poll, a solid majority disapproves of his job performance. Those are dreadful numbers.
Obama's biggest problem of course is the appallingly weak economy. The AP surveys a number of measures: economic growth, consumer spending, jobs, income, and concludes that on all these measures this is the weakest economic recovery since the Second World War. If the election is a referendum on this, Obama would lose to Sarah Palin.
And yet, the race seems to be tied. Two possible interpretations of this occur to me at this moment and both may be right. When I and my son walked our backpacks up the hill to the Centennial Trailhead this morning, we found a number of cars there. One had an Obama-Biden sticker on the bumper. I spoke briefly to the owner, not about politics but about the trail he was about to hike, but he let it be known that he was bound for Oregon. I am guessing that he was one of the forty-plus percent that will vote for Obama no matter what. It might be that our body politic is so polarized that it no longer responds to contextual stimulus.
Another possibility is that there is a massive "Bradley Effect" in play. Poll respondents don't want to admit that they are not voting for Obama, for all sorts of interesting sociological reasons. However, when you ask them other questions…It is possible that the first is correct and the second applies to the diminished but potentially decisive independents.
Just right now Mitt Romney may be encouraged by two facts. One is that he and his running mate are drawing very large crowds. Even a very polarized electorate still has some play, as one pole may be more enthusiastic than the other. The second is that Romney seems to be doing very well among young voters. From the Washington Examiner:
For the first time since he began running for president, Republican Mitt Romney has the support of over 40 percent of America's youth vote, a troubling sign for President Obama who built his 2008 victory with the overwhelming support of younger, idealistic voters… In his latest poll, Obama receives just 49 percent of the youth vote when pitted against Romney, who received 41 percent…
Zogby speculates that Romney's selection of 42-year-old Rep. Paul Ryan helped turn more younger voters to him. "It could be his youthfulness," said Zogby of Ryan. Plus, he said, more younger voters are becoming libertarian, distrustful of current elected officials and worried that they are going to get stuck with the nation's looming fiscal bill.
"They want change," said Zogby.
"Change" is a fickle goddess. By definition, she only blesses a candidate once.