Barack Obama Vs. Mitt Romney: Who Wins In November?
Tonight’s Republican primaries were far from decisive. As of this writing, Mitt Romney has won four states, Rick Santorum three, and Newt Gingrich one. Ohio is technically too close to call, but Mitt Romney has claimed a late lead that may end up sticking.
Although tonight didn’t officially settle the race or make Romney the de facto nominee, his substantial delegate lead makes it appear that this race is still his to lose. So for the first time, I’m going to switch out of primary election mode and into general election mode to see what an election between President Obama and Governor Romney would look like.
Since the beginning of the 24/7 media age in 1980, there have been eight presidential elections. Six factors have accurately predicted the winner of all eight elections. We’ll use those six criteria to look at Obama vs. Romney.
1. The candidate with the clearest message has always won
Neither candidate has articulated a clear general election message yet.
The best message I’ve heard from the Obama Administration so far has been, “Bin Laden is dead and Detroit is alive.” That’s a terrific message, but it’s not going to become an official one. They also seem to have been testing a “let’s finish the job” theme, but I’m skeptical that slogan will survive the predictable counterattacks from Republicans. The Obama 2012 website doesn’t offer a unifying message yet.
The Romney 2012 website offers two main messages: “Believe in America” and “Fight for America.” Those two messages are consistent with the message he delivered in his 2010 book, No Apology: The Case for American Greatness.
2. The candidate who articulated the clearer vision has always won
Neither man has done a terrific job of articulating a clear vision yet.
What, specifically, would President Obama do in his second term (that he could get through an opposition Congress, anyway)? And what would a President Romney make his top three priorities, other than slashing tax rates across the board?
Both men have started answering those questions, but will eventually need to offer a stronger and clearer vision of what the world would look like under their leadership.
3. The sunnier candidate with the more optimistic message has always won
After a gloomy couple of years, President Obama has recently re-emerged with a vitality and energy that we haven’t seen for a while. Some independent voters will ignore his optimism since they feel that he over-promised and under-delivered in 2008 – but there’s little doubt that he’s projecting the type of optimism today that has historically appealed to independent voters.
Gov. Romney, on the other hand, isn’t exactly “sunny.” He’ll need to begin pivoting to the type of “can-do” optimism that helped elect Ronald Reagan (“It’s morning in America”), George H.W. Bush (“A kinder, gentler nation”), and Barack Obama (“Yes we can”).
4. The candidate whose message is best aligned with constituent concerns has always won
This category is about as subjective as they come. Public opinion polls show the American people roughly split on this question. For now, it appears that neither candidate has locked in the independent voters who will likely decide this election.
5. The more charismatic candidate has always won
See number three. President Obama seemingly lost his charisma during long stretches of his presidency, but he’s regained his joy over the past few months. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, has continued to struggle to connect with voters.
6. The candidate who appeared most comfortable in his skin has always won
President Obama hasn’t wavered much on who he is: he ran as a cerebral, slightly aloof, occasionally passionate politician, and has governed as such. As I’ve written recently, Mitt Romney has been less sure in this category. He has tried to present himself as both an American success story and as a populist “man of the people” – and those two personalities aren’t always congruent.
If the election were held today, these six criteria suggest that President Obama would win re-election.
But there’s a big caveat here: This is just a snapshot of where the race is today, and assuming Mr. Romney gets the nomination, the lead would likely switch hands a few times between now and November 6. Many factors – including world events, economic news, the presidential debates, and Romney’s vice presidential selection – can dramatically alter the race.
In order to help capture the state of the race over time, I’ll update this analysis a few times between now and the election.
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