Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney recently caused controversy in the United States after a video was released of him essentially writing off 47% of his electorate. David Brooks, a popular American political commentator referred to Mr Romney as one of the least popular conservative candidates in American history. Nevertheless, the “Conservative” brand has become known for having the audacity to try to reveal what may be home-truths to those who may not wish to hear them. Romney’s awareness that 47% of Americans would never vote for him, for example, could even be described as having a certain realist approach.
As The Economist wrote recently, around 10% of the predicted turnout will be swing voters. Which way they swing is ultimately where the battle will be lost and won. In 2008, Barack Obama won 52% of these swingers. Yet since then, thanks to ‘broken promises’ and a disappointing economy, he has ultimately lost over 800,000 of them. The Republicans, in contrast, have lost only over 300,000. That difference is especially significant considering that the number of independents has shot up by another 300,000. This nebulous group of undecided voters is the one both candidates will attempt to court.
Economically, the main difference between the two parties lies in taxation. With regards to Medicare, the parties are of course split, (more importantly, even between themselves) yet an overall consensus is that the system needs further public debate and reform. The Democratic line is that a national healthcare service is a priority for the country. The Republican line is that such a system denotes firstly, too big a government, which is unconstitutional; secondly, that the country is unable to afford such a huge centrally-regulated system, and third, that the current policies put far too much strain on small businesses. But the need to address America’s increasingly aging population remains a key long-term issue. Mr Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, supported the idea that Medicare should be based on a means-tested basis how much help you receive from the government should not be universal, but based on what you can afford. Yet within the party, beliefs about how such a system should go are varied and complex, with some calling for it to be scrapped completely.
When it comes to taxation, consensus falls apart and the true party vs. party lines come into focus. Mr Obama favours an increase, Mr Romney the opposite. Romney has also sought to temper his criticised idea of cutting tax for the rich. Romney also takes issue with Mr Obama’s stimulus packages, which have failed to stimulate high growth. Additionally, America’s deficit has remained at over $1 trillion, (7.3% of the country’s GDP) a figure considered completely unsustainable, and that number is set to increase, as do the number of Americans claiming benefits (estimated to be up to over 40%– the most commonly applied for are for food stamps and unemployment support). Cuts on the military are the only ones Romney intends to reverse, while the failed pledge to bring troops home from the war in Afghanistan and the broken promise to close Guantanamo Bay arguably point to a disappointing foreign policy record for Mr Obama. But ultimately, where do the candidates differ on this front? Mr Obama’s foreign policy can generally be seen as taking a more ‘soft-power’ approach in regard to world politics. Nevertheless, the two candidates are a lot more similar than they’d like to admit. As one commentator recently put it, the only difference is that Romney wishes to ‘speak more loudly, but carry the same stick.’
Mr Romney would no doubt view his current stand in the ratings, considering the economic circumstances of the US (as well as the deflated performances of Mr Obama at recent debates) as disappointing. He has been accused by Republicans in America of simply lacking the winning edge. He is not exactly helped by supporters among the more radical wings in his party, among them Todd Akin whose comments on ‘legitimate rape’ were immediately seized upon by opponents. Given the radical, religiously fanatic and downright whacky nature of much of the Republican party, what America lacks is a truly moderate centre right party. Mr Romney is considered by the more hawkish members of his party to be very moderate, a view that Romney’s record backs up- his time as governor of Massachusetts was coloured with economic success and liberal policies in regards to contraception and civil partnerships. But this may be to his advantage in courting the decisive ‘swingers’. A Pew Research Centre poll has shown Mr Romney’s support leaping up by 18% among female voters since the TV debates started. Moreover, according to most statistics, the Republicans are overall more trusted than Mr Obama to run the economy, especially when it comes to taking the economic challenge to China. Mr Romney wants China to be branded as a currency manipulator, in order to revalue the dollar against an increasingly strong, but undervalued yen.
The current polling in the swings lies at around a general 1-2% separation between the candidates, with the polls in the president’s favour. But comparing this to 2008, where Mr Obama’s lead was generally by 5-6% in the swings, and considering the potential of a third of eligible voters staying home on polling day, there is still all to play for. In the week after the first debate, Mr Romney achieved his first lead in the polls since the start of the campaign, with RealClearPolitics calling him 1.5% in front of Obama. Most figures do show Mr Obama with the smallest of leads but, as Harold Wilson once said, ‘a week is a long time in politics.’ And with two weeks left in the race, Romney, the man who would be President, just might become it.