Surge? What’s all this talk about a surge?
Sure, President Obama appeared comatose in the first debate. And yes, Mitt Romney turned in a commanding performance. But it seems hard to believe that those two factors alone can account for a so-called surge. Polling experts now say Romney’s debate performance was so strong that it magically energized a whole new bunch of supporters and shifted the race overnight.
According to a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, Obama led Romney, 51–43, before the debate. After the debate, Romney took the lead, 49-45.
A closer examination of polling data suggests that it might be more accurately described as a White voter surge. Before and after the debate, the support for both candidates among Black voters remained relatively stagnant, with Obama commanding more than 90% support among African Americans.
According to the Pew Research poll, Romney gained seven points among White voters, from 51% to 58%.
This campaign has been running for two years now. So how can these people be swayed so dramatically by a 90-minute event?
If there is, in fact, a surge, it cannot possibly stem from substantive ideas advanced by the Republican nominee. In the debate, Romney offered no new, profound or game-changing views.
By my measure, he did at least two things that should have further dampened his chances of winning the election.
First, fact checkers who examined his statements determined that Romney was not truthful on many fronts, including his vague plans for deficit reduction.
Second, he shifted from previous conservative stances to position himself in a more moderate light. On matters such as cuts to Medicare, Romney proved, yet again that he will say virtually anything to get elected.
In other words, the serial flip-flopper flip-flopped, big-time.
So why this talk about a surge?
Among Whites, many are the same folks who, before now, couldn’t stomach the fact that Romney is a Mormon. And these are some of the very people who refused to trust that he is a true conservative.
For quite some time, many White voters have cited a laundry list of reasons why they cannot bring themselves to support Mitt.
So should the rest of us now believe that, after taking a good, hard second peek at Romney last week, they suddenly discovered some things they had overlooked before?
They all got a good, long look at Romney during the protracted Republican primaries. Obviously, they didn’t like what they saw.
More recently, they viewed Romney on tape describing nearly half of Americans as shiftless slugs. They couldn’t have been happy about that.
Indeed, they had seen and known a lot about Romney long before debate night. They knew he sends his money to the Cayman Islands and that he won’t release much information about his tax returns. They knew about his company, Bain Capital, which buys and sells businesses like baseball trading cards.
Yet now there is a sudden dramatic surge, supposedly because of a single debate.
Voters have seen quite a bit of Obama, too. Remember, he’s the guy who nailed bin Laden and increased health benefits for families. He’s the president who brought the troops home from Iraq and steered us back from the financial cliff.
So how could one poor debate showing on his part account for a plummet in the polls?
My theory: In the debate, Romney reflected a national character trait that Obama seems not to grasp. Americans prefer leaders who are macho – you know, Dodge Ram tough. Both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush proved that it matters less if those leaders don’t know what the hell they’re doing, so long as they look and talk the part.
During the debate, Romney stood tall in the saddle, like Reagan. He played the tough guy role to a T.
By and large, Americans also prefer the president to be White. Since day one of the Obama administration, millions of Whites have been miserable and cranky about a perceived ethnic paradigm shift. I’m not talking about those people who simply disagree with the president’s policies. I’m referring to the segment of folks who detest the very idea of a Black man running the show.
We’ve seen expressions of racial hatred, nonstop, since the beginning: The Obama monkey posters; the flagrant disrespect by other politicians; the venom from conservative media types, such as radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who said, “I hope he fails.”
They want to see Obama gone, period. In the debate Romney aggressively pressed the case that he could make that happen.
Some, like Georgia Republican Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, who referred to the Obamas as “uppity,” simply craved to see someone put that Black man in his place. Westmoreland and other Obama critics were surely thrilled to see Romney do just that (symbolically, at least) during the debate. In verbally body slamming Obama, Romney provided therapy and great theater for legions of delighted Obama-haters.
The president’s critics were obviously so elated to see him take a verbal lashing that they are now willing to forget their instinctive mistrust of Romney.
So now there’s a surge
Interestingly, in the Pew poll Romney made the largest gain among White voters without a college degree. Among that group, he led Obama 53%-40% in September. The challenger now leads 61%-33%. That’s a whopping 28-point lead!
Ironically, these are the workers hit hardest by the economic downturn. Do they actually believe Romney, Mr. Blueblood snob, cares about them?
If history is any indicator, the answer is a resounding yes. In matters of politics, voters’ racial loyalty often trumps their class interests.
Amazingly, there may just be enough new supporters to push Romney over the top. And to think; he had been targeting Independents, that sliver of voters consistently up for grabs. Now he has the eager support of come-lately White voters that he had basically written off.
If Romney wins the Nov. 6 election, the newly converted will eventually get to know the Tin Man better. They will find that Romney meant what he said, and he’ll treat them accordingly.
They may not regard themselves as such, but they are the 47 percent.
Nathan McCall is a senior lecturer in the Department of African American Studies at Emory University. Additionally, he is a best-selling author of his groundbreaking autobiography, “Makes Me Wanna Holler: A Young Black Man In America”; “What’s Going On”; and his first novel, “Them.” He received his B.A. in Journalism from Norfolk State University.