Thursday, June 21, 2012

Catch of the Day

Remember that business about Barack Obama saying that the private sector was doing "fine," and the question of whether or not it was a gaffe that mattered? Well, John Sides decided to test it, and guess what? Only about half of the YouGov respondents were able to correctly identify "doing fine" as something that Obama said. Via email, John tells me that the number for Democrats and pure independents was even lower; what's driving the numbers up are Republicans who know about it, which presumably isn't winning any votes.

No wonder polling averages remain mainly flat following this world-class gaffe.

What this survey makes clear is that even after national headlines, some kinds of stories just don’t register to busy Americans who have more things to do than follow every jot and tittle of the news. Which is one reason why the attention devoted to gaffes dwarfs their actual impact at the ballot box.
Now, granted, if Mitt Romney and outside GOP groups feature the quote in heavy advertising from here to November, more people will hear about it. But it's not as if they would otherwise not be advertising; the question then would be how much additional effect that particular quote has compared to whatever the alternative would have been. Given the limited effect of campaigns overall, and that advertising is only one part of campaigns, and that this would still be only a subset of all advertising...I'm pretty skeptical that having this particular one out there compared with whatever alternative would have been used will make much of a difference at all.

But that's just informed speculation. The numbers that we have are information. And: nice catch!


  1. Perhaps this one won't resonate because it doesn't feed a credible Obama narrative. Many may feel he's ineffectual; few will buy that he's unaware of average Americans' pain. Etch-a-Sketch, on the other hand, catches a core truth, or at least a credible narrative, about Romney. Jon, your "they would have found another message" argument can never really be disproved, but some advertising/messaging is more effective than alternatives. And even you poli sci guys admit that campaign quality can matter at the margins.

  2. If 47% of Americans have heard about this comment, it's an incredibly successful campaign by Romney and the GOP. Instead, this number seems like a significant amount of over reporting, perhaps due to respondents simply affirming they'd heard the remark instead of being forced to recall or demonstrate knowledge.


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