Since he first established himself as the front-runner for the Republican Party's nomination for President Mitt Romney has struggled to develop a continuing momentum for his campaign. Now in the wake of some relatively poor opinion polls and the publicity over his statements that the 47% of the US population who do not pay income tax are apparently lazy and dependent his chances of winning seem even more limited. If the betting agencies are to be believed Mr Romney has little chance of securing the presidency.
Three weeks ago I wrote an article for the Conversation where I quoted the odds offered by British Bookmaker Ladbrokes on a Romney win. Those odds were 15/8. In the relatively short time since that article the bookmaker is now offering the far more generous odds of 3/1 on Mr Romney while President Obama is at 1/4. It would seem the bookmakers like many pundits give Romney little chance of securing the Presidency. How has it come to this though? How it is that when the United States economy is still struggling along with unemployment at 8.2% and the United States budget deficit is at dangerously high levels that the Republican challenger is travelling so poorly?
In one sense Mr Romneys' greatest strength is also his greatest weakness – he looks and sounds like a corporate manager. Throughout his campaign Mr Romney has sought to sell himself as a better manager of the economy than President Obama. By emphasising his role in saving the Salt Lake City Olympics from collapse and his experience in the corporate world in co-founding Bain and Co Mr Romney has sought to portray himself as someone better equipped to handle the economy's problems than President Obama. In attacking the President's use of government spending to stabilise the economy Mr Romney has also sought to champion free enterprise as the primary creator of wealth. In this way he has sought to tap into the strong suspicion that many Americans -particularly working class men - have of government.
Mr Romney's focus on the economy and his ability to handle its complexities better than President Obama is certainly something that has resonated with voters. In a recent Washington Post poll 78% of voters said they viewed the economy as the primary issue that would influence their vote. In the same poll Mr Romney had a slight lead among likely voters in his ability to handle the economy as well as deal with the large government budget deficit.
Given his success in convincing a significant proportion of voters of his credentials in economic management why is Mr Romney trailing in the opinion polls and struggling to maintain the viability of his candidacy? Clearly there are many reasons but one important one is Mr Romney's inability to engage with the American public on a personal as opposed to a political level. In many ways he just does not come across as that likeable. Not only this his values and background seem at a number of levels to be out of touch with those of mainstream Americans.
When Mitt Romney talks of his sense of frugality and self-reliance by rationing the selling of shares which he had from his father to pay for his college living expenses he does not seem to appreciate the fact that most Americans are not lucky enough to have that option. When he talks of the racing car team owners that he knows when he makes comments at a $50,000 a plate fundraiser about the 47% of American who are 'dependent on government' he does not seem to understand the suffering which so many American have endured as a result of the Global Financial crisis.
Despite the Republicans' success in selling the message that the failure to recover fully from the financial crisis is due to the failures of government rather than the initial severity of the crisis there is still an ongoing distrust of big business in American society. Most Americans have after all been affected in some way by the financial crisis and they know – despite their belief in self-reliance – that the people who are struggling are not usually lazy but just unfortunate victims of the vagaries of the economic system.
Mr Romney's inability through his personal narrative to engage fully with the struggle of ordinary Americans has meant that he ends up sounding more like the corporate manger that many Americans still see at the heart of the cause of the financial crisis. The evidence of significant downsizing of companies during Mr Romney's time at Bain and the issues over whether he pays his fair share of tax have all added to the perception that Mr. Romney is not like ordinary Americans. This perception of Mr. Romney as being alienated from the concerns of ordinary Americans, despite his significant business resume, is indicated in the large lead in polls that President Obama enjoys in likeability as well as being seen as more compassionate about the worries of ordinary Americans.
Unless Mr Romney can convince Americans in the upcoming Presidential debates that his ability to handle the economy overrides his personal empathy issues then the Republicans are destined for another loss on the first Tuesday in November.
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