On Thursday, the Obama campaign circulated a memo from their internal polling group analyzing data about Paul Ryan's impact on the polls. The main takeaway is this: Ryan has failed, in historic and epic fashion, to help Mitt Romney's poll numbers. Joel Benenson, the campaign's chief pollster who heads the Benenson Strategy Group, explains: “Mitt Romney's choice of Paul Ryan as the Republican vice presidential nominee is viewed less favorably and has had less positive impact than nearly any nomination in a quarter century.”
Typically, announcing a running mate helps a nominee's standing in the polls. Since 1996, Republicans have gained an average of 4.7 percentage points in polls following the announcement of a running mate, according to Gallup polling. “In contrast,” Benenson explains, “initial polls show that Ryan has had virtually no impact on Romney's position in the polls, even in polls that have been shown to have a Republican-leaning 'house effect.'”
Consider the numbers from these three polling outfits highlighted in the memo:
- In Gallup's daily tracking poll, Romney has picked up only 1 point of support since the pick.
- In Rasmussen's daily tracker, Romney has lost a point from his pre-announcement standing, going from a 46-44 lead over the President to a 45-44 lead today.
- According to the Economist's YouGov poll, the President has extended his lead from 46-45 in early August to 47-44 in the three days after the choice of Ryan.
Benenson explains that despite what the talking heads on television say, voters ultimately vote for the nominees. The test of the vice presidential running mate choice, however, is whether the nominee has good decision-making skills. The polls clearly show Romney failing that test. According to Gallup, only 39% view Romney's choice as “excellent” or “good,” while 42% say Ryan was an “only fair” or “poor” choice. “These are the lowest marks since Gallup began asking the question, 5 points lower than George H.W. Bush's choice of Dan Quayle,” Benenson explains.
Republicans argue (and will argue) that Ryan's low numbers are due to low name recognition. Historical data explained in the memo derails this theory:
- In its first post-pick poll, Gallup finds 39% saying they had never heard of Ryan.
- By comparison, Sarah Palin was unknown to 51%, and yet her choice was still viewed more favorably initially.
- In 1996, Jack Kemp was unknown to 55% of voters. Nonetheless, his choice led to a 9-point bump in Bob Dole's position in the horserace against President Bill Clinton.
Benenson concludes convincingly that Ryan has failed to help Romney because Ryan hails from “the most extreme wing of the least popular institution in America, Congressional Republicans.” Ryan constantly emphasizes his status as the “intellectual leader of the Republican Party” – a designation Americans have very low regard for and “only serves to weaken the Romney/Ryan ticket.”
Polling experts say that only 3 – 5 percent of the electorate is truly undecided. These “swing voters” make the crucial difference in states like Ohio and Florida, and they're whom the campaigns are really fighting over. Paul Ryan was clearly a gamble for Mitt Romney, who has been seeing his standing in the polls fall for weeks. It is equally clear that Ryan has not helped Romney gain momentum.
More Americans have heard of Paul Ryan than other recent Republican vice presidential picks because they heard about his disastrous budget plan. The debate over his budget was a rare moment last year when Democrats had Republicans on the run, and Ryan's insanely austere budget was roundly panned and criticized. Mitt Romney's selection of Ryan is truly a gamble – that what was deeply unpopular last year can somehow come back to life this year and help him win the ticket. Not a very smart – or presidential – decision.