This chapter is the first of three chapters on the general election campaign. It deals with the summer campaign, including the continuing importance of fundamentals like the economy and party identification, the candidates’ messaging strategies, Obama’s early advertising blitz, the attacks on and news coverage of Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital, various “gaffes” (“You didn’t build that,” Romney’s foreign trip, etc.), and the Paul Ryan pick — basically everything up until the conventions. You can see parts of that analysis previewed in my most recent post at Wonkblog.
Some findings from this chapter:
* Economic conditions in the first half of 2012 still forecast an Obama victory. Indeed, by at least one economic index, they were more favorable for Obama than for Clinton in 1996.
* Despite concerns about “divided” political parties, Democrats and Republicans coalesced very quickly around Obama and Romney, respectively. In general, party identification helped to create a great deal of stability in candidate preferences.
* The various gaffes, as well as the attacks on Romney’s time at Bain Capital, produced at best small and temporary shifts in opinions.
* News coverage of Obama and Romney during the summer was remarkably balanced. The media favored neither candidate. See the chapter for the data that support this claim.
* The effects of advertising on vote intentions were visible but short-lived. As I said at Wonkblog, we found no evidence that the early Obama advertising created durable shifts in opinion that would have benefited him on Election Day.
* In the Pollster averages, Obama’s lead over Romney the day before the Republican convention began was exactly the same as it was on May 1.
We argue that the much of the general election campaign, especially in the summer, resembled a “dynamic equilibrium”:
bq. The general election campaign resembles a concept from the sciences called a “dynamic equilibrium.” In a dynamic equilibrium, things are happening, sometimes vigorously or rapidly, but they produce reactions that are roughly the same size or magnitude and that occur at roughly the same rates. Thus, the entire “system”—populated by candidates, media, and voters—appears stable, or at a “steady state,” to use more scientific nomenclature. Reams of news coverage and vigorous campaigning coincide with stable polls.
The implication, then, is not that the Obama and Romney campaigns were ineffective. It is that they were roughly equally effective.
The entire book is finished and will be available by late August or early September. Stay tuned.