Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Can Obama lead on leadership again?

The debates did many things for Mitt Romney, but one of the least-reported and most important is that polls show they vaulted him ahead of Barack Obama on the question of leadership.

Before the debates, the president, not surprisingly held double-digit leads on leadership. Voters tend to reward incumbents on the measure (especially ones who've given the kill order on the world's most wanted terrorist), and they grow accustomed to and comfortable with seeing them in leadership positions.

But Romney's strong debate performances reversed that dramatically, and now he doesn't just lead on the question, nationally, but he leads in swing states, as well.

Quinnipiac showed the big lead in both today's batch of swing state polls and in its last batch (which showed Romney scoring higher on leadership in Colorado, Wisconsin, and Virginia).

The big question, though -- will Hurricane Sandy give Obama the edge on leadership again?

At first glance, it seems like it could -- particularly if we've reached a point this weekend where there's enough distance to get a better grip on the losses and first 24 hours (RNC keynoter Chris Christie's lavish and expansive praise doesn't hurt, either).

So yes, it's quite possible that Sandy could give Obama a boost on leadership, and don't underestimate the effect the leadership question could have on the race.

When voters view you as a stronger leader, that informs everything, because leadership is associated with everythign from getting the economy back on track to crafting consensus in Washington -- something that's especially salient in the fiscal cliff era.

Karl Rove is often fond of saying that George W. Bush beat John Kerry, in part, because voters viewed Bush as a stronger leader, even though they liked Kerry better on the issues.

That's why it's so vital for Romney to hold onto those leadership gains, and they've been pretty impressive.

In fact, check out today's Quinnipiac/CBS/New York Times polls of Florida, Virginia, and Ohio. Romney has double-digit leads on the leadership question in each state.

The question: Would you say that Barack Obama/Mitt Romney has strong leadership qualities or not?

FLORIDA: Obama's score on leadership is 55%/43% for +12% on the leadership question.

Romney's score is 65%/31% for +34%. That's a huge gap in favor of Romney.

OHIO: Obama's score is 58%/40% for +18%.

Romney's score is 64%/32% for +32%.

VIRGINIA: Obama's score is 55%/43% for +12%.

Romney's score is 64%/31% for +33%.

So what do we see?

Romney picks up an average score of +33% with an extremely low standard deviation, while Obama picks up an average score of +14%. That's a pretty big gap. It's even more impressive when you consider that the same poll puts Obama ahead in each state, and with a pretty heavy Dem sample to boot.

So keep in mind the leadership question when you think about the political aftermath of Sandy and once we start seeing some polls rolling in this weekend.