America Votes – 45 Days Out

As Chris travels the United States, he gives his perspective on the latest happenings on the Presidential Campaign and asks, does the data matter all that much?

I have been in the United States for the last week, travelling across the country from Los Angeles to where I am now, in the nation’s capital (with stays in San Francisco and Chicago along the way), and the most lasting impression I have is that this Presidential Election campaign hasn’t taken off.

Now that may have to do with me visiting in states that have historically been uncompetitive (California, Illinois and now the District of Columbia) or it could reflect something deeper; an electorate tired of the tone of this increasingly bitter campaign, one that’s decided to tune out from the endless drone of negative ads from both campaigns (Obama’s failed the economy, Mitt Romney doesn’t care about ordinary Americans) and the endless roster of SuperPACs.

But it’s not as though this election is a meaningless affair. Plenty is at stake with the outcome of Barack Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s battle over the next month and a half. If we are to accept the claims of both campaigns the futures of Medicare, Social Security, the President’s healthcare reform, the federal government no less is at stake. Additionally there is the looming Fiscal Cliff (an automatic set of spending cuts and tax increases that economists fear could cripple the already fragile economy recovery.[1]

With this in mind, one would expect that any public information about the state of the economy, the economy that Barack Obama has overseen for nearly the last four years, would be driving significant trends in the presidential polling. Ultimately though, what we have is a sclerotic electorate, rarely swayed by key events or data releases, such as the monthly unemployment figures the media tout as a key economic barometer, and indicator of the President’s strength heading into November.

Aside from the traditional Convention bounce for President Obama, the band in which the polling between the two contenders has rarely broken 2%-3% over the last few months, as per Nate Silver’s excellent polling analysis blog, FiveThirtyEight.

It seems as though Mitt Romney has gotten the message from this inactivity in the polls and the lack of any discernible momentum to his candidacy. After a week of scrutiny and drama within his campaign there has been much discussion about his overarching strategy. That being, that this election could simply be a referendum on the President’s economic record, thus requiring little information about what exactly a Romney Administration would implement over the next four years.

However, Romney has presented in public over the last few weeks, a more varied policy standpoint with discussion of issues ranging from foreign policy to immigration reform the focus of his stump speeches.

However, time is running out for him to change course, and with the Presidential Debates only a matter of days away it’s time for the Republican nominee to do something drastic otherwise he will be looking down the spectre of defeat to the President.

Above all this discussion of the impact of the economy on the electoral outcome, or lack thereof, is the real question of this election from my point of view. And it’s one that’s regularly come up in my discussions with locals across the country, be they minimum wage hospitality workers, students, government officials or taxi drivers (the best barometers of public opinion) – what exactly can either of this candidates do to actively improve the economic recovery from its current state?

With the political process so bitterly divided, with the country facing such a complex array of fiscal, social challenges, can a re-election, or a change of President really change much, as is?

As I continue to make my way around this country of vast contrasts, I look forward to finding out.

[1] I’ll be discussing the Fiscal Cliff in my upcoming article for the ESSA bi-annual publication, Equilibrium.

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