Poll shows Obama character-attack strategy flopping

Barack Obama’s campaign has spent tens of millions of dollars attempting to paint Mitt Romney as an unsavory businessman, a clueless tycoon, and even accused him at one point of being a “felon.”  Team Obama needed to make Romney toxic early, while it had a large advantage in primary-campaign cash, in order to avoid having to defend Obama’s economic record.  So how did that strategy work out?  After three solid months, a new poll by The Hill shows Romney holding a narrow edge on character issues over the incumbent President:

Mitt Romney holds thin advantages over President Obama on leadership, personal values and honesty, according to a new poll for The Hill.

The poll, conducted for The Hill by Pulse Opinion Research, suggests voters see little difference between the candidates on character issues that Democrats have cited as key to Obama’s appeal.

It found 48 percent of voters consider Romney the stronger leader, compared to 44 percent who favored Obama.

Similarly, 47 percent of likely voters also said Romney most shares their values while 44 percent picked Obama.

When asked which candidate voters considered more honest and trustworthy, 46 percent said Romney and 44 percent said Obama — a result within the poll’s 3 percentage point margin of error.

The Hill doesn’t mention any earlier polls on this subject, but I think it’s safe to say that this isn’t an improvement since Romney became the presumptive nominee in late April.  The sample in this case has a one-point advantage for Republicans, with a D/R/I of 34/35/31.  That’s almost identical to the 2010 turnout model, and with Gallup finding a significant decline in Democratic enthusiasm, one that looks more likely to repeat itself rather than the D+7 2008 model.

The internals are even worse for Obama.  Instead of benefiting from a gender gap, Obama and Romney are tied among women on trust, 43/43, while Romney leads among men 50/44. They also tie among women on who is the strongest leader, 45/45.  Even worse, Romney has a clear edge in both questions among voters under 40 years of age, 50/40 and 50/42, respectively.  Romney edges Obama in both categories among independents by a single point, and Romney wins by large margins among all income demographics except those earning under $20K per year.

The news isn’t much better for Obama on the question of values and relatability.  Romney wins the question of who most closely shares voters’ values by three overall, 47/44, despite the demonization conducted by Team Obama over the last three months.  Romney has a nine-point lead among men (52/43) while Obama has only a one-point edge among women (44/43).  Younger voters choose Romney again, 48/41, but middle-agers choose Obama by three, 48/45; Romney wins seniors by 12, 52/40.  Independents give Romney a one-point edge (45/44).  Obama has more success with lower-income demos, but Romney wins everything above $40K, most of them by wide majorities.

The window for Team Obama to define Romney as scary and untrustworthy is rapidly closing.  In five weeks, Romney will unleash his growing general-election fund advantage and blanket the airwaves with both positive ads for himself and spots that focus on Obama’s sorry economic record.  Unless the Obama campaign can figure out how to demonize Romney effectively, they will have wasted an entire summer and perhaps nine figures on an attack strategy that is clearly flopping.  If anything, they’re damaging Obama more than Romney with the campaign strategy of constant attacks.  People may really be wondering what Obama stands for rather than against, and why he’s not making a case for himself rather than a case against Romney.