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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ryan’s Leaden Baggage Now Romney’s, As GOP Ticket Sinks

The following article, by Andrew Baumann and Erica Seifert, vice president and senior associate, respectively of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, is cross-posted from Politico:
Mitt Romney’s presidential team is touting Rep. Paul Ryan’s selection as the Republicans’ vice presidential candidate as a game changer. They may be right — but not in the way they’re hoping.
There are certainly benefits to Romney’s selection of Ryan. He not only consolidates but also electrifies a base that continues to have serious doubts about their presumed presidential nominee. Ryan will likely bring a boost to Romney’s already overflowing campaign coffers. He’s also a capable spokesperson for conservative economic policies.
But the risks for Romney are enormous. And the fact that the former Massachusetts governor is willing to take those risks shows that the Romney brain trust realizes that their recent dip in the polls is real.
Ryan begins this new chapter relatively unknown (54 percent have never heard of him in a recent CNN poll) and the voters who do know him are split — even in his home state of Wisconsin. He had a 36 – 29 percent favorable/unfavorable ratio in a recent Marquette University poll.
The impact of vice presidential nominees on the Electoral College is always overrated, and Ryan will likely be no exception. A recent analysis by Nate Silver in The New York Times estimated that Ryan’s addition to the ticket would add only a net 0.7 points to Romney’s margin in Wisconsin, hardly enough to swing the state.
Of course, the Ryan pick matters far more on a strategic, rather than tactical, level. Republicans have insisted from the beginning that this election would be a referendum on President Barack Obama’s economic record. Obama and his team have done their best to turn it into a choice between two governing philosophies: one holding that “the only way to create an economy built to last is to strengthen the middle class,” as Obama says in a recent campaign ad, and one that would sacrifice the middle class and its priorities in favor of more giveaways to the very wealthy and special interests.
The Romney camp’s selection of Ryan is an admission that their efforts to make this a referendum have failed. It also ensures that Ryan’s unpopular budget plan will be a focus of the campaign – to Obama’s advantage.
Obama and Democrats have been trying to hang Ryan’s plan around the necks of Republicans since it first passed the House in April 2011. And with good reason. Americans opposed Ryan’s plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program 58 to 35 percent, according to a CNN poll in May 2011. Our own research over the last year and half for Democracy Corps has found that the Ryan plan has only become less popular.
Ryan’s plan to privatize Medicare remains the most unpopular portion of his budget plan, raising serious doubts in the mind of two-thirds of voters in our April national survey.
But it’s hardly the only unpopular element. Voters also reject Ryan’s plan to cut taxes for the very wealthy while raising them on the poor and middle class; his plan to allow the refundable child tax credit to expire, which would push the families of 2 million children back into poverty; and to his drastic cuts to education spending. All these create serious doubts with at least 59 percent of likely voters, and very serious doubts with between 37 and 40 percent of likely voters (a strong intensity score).
They are even more potent with key swing groups (independents, suburban voters and seniors), as well as Democratic base voters (Latinos, youth and unmarried women) who have yet to become energized in this election.
While the individual elements of Ryan’s plan are deeply unpopular, the biggest effect on the campaign may well be how it helps Obama’s argument that Romney has the wrong priorities for middle class Americans. Obama has already been using Romney’s history at Bain Capital, plus the recent Tax Policy Center report on Romney’s tax plan, to argue that “Romney Hood” policies would rob the middle class to help the wealthy.
Swing voters expressed these same sentiments when we described the Ryan plan to them (in neutral language) in recent focus groups. One non-college, independent woman from Columbus. Ohio said:
“It’s just wrong, in my opinion…I think of Robin Hood, where the king is stealing from the poor to make more money.”
The Ryan budget’s impact on Romney at the ballot box will be very real. In our June national survey (before Obama’s recent surge in national polling), after voters heard a favorable description of the Ryan plan (paraphrased from Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) as well as balanced arguments for and against the budget, we asked them to imagine a debate in which Romney embraced Ryan’s plan while Obama opposed it.
The vote shifted significantly, with Obama’s lead more than doubling from 3 to 8 points (51 to 43 percent). Among critical independent voters, Obama’s margin expanded from 2 to 11 points.
Voters no longer have to imagine a Romney embrace of the Ryan budget. This weekend, Romney made Ryan’s priorities his own.

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