Two conventions, and tens of millions of campaign dollars later, we continue to hold that belief. While there have been dozens of polls released during the past six weeks that have had Mitt Romney up by as much as 4 points and Barack Obama up by as much 8 or 9, those variations have had more to do with sampling variations than with real movement in the campaign.
Yes, there have been gaffes on both sides that have been the focus of both the news media and opposing campaigns, but the dynamics that have been the real drivers of the campaign, the economy and deeply negative feelings about the direction of the country, have not changed.
There have also been negative stories about the internal operations, messaging and strategy of both presidential campaigns. In August, leading into the Republican convention, there were multiple stories about the Obama campaign operation and internal fights about both message and strategic direction that led one to believe the wheels were coming off.
Now it is the Romney campaign’s turn.
The past several weeks have been filled with news stories, editorials and columns heaping criticism on the tactics and strategy of the Romney campaign. Many of these opinion pieces even suggested that Romney’s only hope for winning is to make substantial changes to his campaign.
Much of this analysis is based on the premise that Romney is out of touch and has not been making an affirmative case to middle-class voters. His comments at a private fundraiser in May were pointed to as an illustration that he could never identify with and win the support of many middle-class voters.
We took a special look at middle-class voters, and middle-class families in particular, in this latest POLITICO-George Washington University Battleground Poll and found that not to be the case. In fact, on every measure it is Romney who is winning the battle for the support of middle-class families.
Overall, Obama leads Romney by just 3 points on the ballot (50 percent to 47 percent) – which before we rounded up, is actually a 2.6 point lead and only up a half-a-percentage point from the 2.1 point lead for Obama in our last Battleground poll in early August.
In our latest POLITICO-George Washington University Battleground Poll with middle-class families, which comprise about 54 percent of the total American electorate and usually split in their vote behavior between Republicans and Democrats, Romney holds a 14-point advantage (55 percent to 41 percent).
Middle-class families are more inclined to believe the country is on the wrong track (34 percent right direction, 62 percent wrong track), are more likely to hold an unfavorable view of Obama (48 percent favorable, 51 percent unfavorable), and hold a more favorable view of Romney (51 percent favorable, 44 percent unfavorable) and Paul Ryan (46 percent favorable, 35 percent unfavorable) than the overall electorate.
These middle-class families also hold a majority disapproval rating on the job Obama is doing as president (45 percent approve, 54 percent disapprove), and turn even more negative toward Obama on specific areas; the economy 56 percent disapprove; spending 61 percent disapprove; taxes, 53 percent disapprove; Medicare 48 percent disapprove; and even foreign policy 50 percent disapprove.
(Also on POLITICO: Mitt: Fundraising focus Obama's fault)
All of this data make clear that Romney has won the strong support of middle-class families and is leading the president on an overwhelming majority of key measurements beyond just the ballot. In fact, when respondents were asked who, Obama or Romney, would best handle a variety of issues, Romney led on all but one including the economy (+9 percent), foreign policy (+3 percent), spending (+15 percent), taxes (+7 percent), Medicare (+2 percent), and jobs (+10 percent).Ironically, the one measurement Obama led Romney on was “standing up for the middle class” (+8 Obama), reinforcing that often the Democrats win the message war with the middle class, but not their hearts and souls.
Looking at this presidential election overall, intensity among voters is high with Republicans, Democrats, and now independents, and is at levels more comparable with the final days of a presidential election than six weeks out from Election Day.
In fact, fully 80 percent of voters now say that they are extremely likely to vote. Even with the past few weeks containing some of the toughest days of earned media for the Romney campaign, and perhaps as a surprise to Washington insiders, Romney continues to win Republicans (Romney by a net +87 percent) by the same margin Obama is winning with Democrats (Obama by a net +88 percent), and is still winning with independents (+2 percent).
Romney has majority support with voters over the age of 45 (+7 percent), with men (+6 percent), with white women (+9 percent), and with married voters (+14 percent). In addition, Romney has solidified his base. Support among conservative voters exceeds 70 percent (73 percent), his support among very conservative voters exceeds 80 percent (83 percent), and his support among Republicans exceeds 90 percent (91 percent). Romney is also receiving a higher level of support among Hispanics (40 percent), which is driven by higher support from Hispanic men.