As race tightens VP debate becomes more important

Tonight’s TV debate between Vice President Joe Biden and his Republican challenger Paul Ryan will be exciting and important, although it will not affect the election outcome in any significant way.

That’s the belief, at least, of Gallup, whose recent report shows that none of the last eight debates between vice presidential candidates, between 1976 and 2008, had a major impact on the election results. In the 2008 election, for example, when Joe Biden debate Sarah Palin, support for the Republicans fell by only 1 percent after the debate, while support for the Democrats rose by 2 percent.

The race has tightened since Romney’s strong debate last Wednesday coupled with Barack Obama’s close to catastrophic performance. But, warns Nate Silver on his excellent political statistics blog FiveThirtyEight, in spite of Romney’s great success in the polls after the debate, he has not taken the lead in one of the ten “swing states” or “battle ground states”.

Romney, according to Silver, may have improved his chances of winning the election by 15 to 20 percent a result of his victory in the first TV debate, but:

”The more troubling sign for Mr. Romney, however, is that although he’s made gains, he does not seem to have taken the lead in very many state polls. That trend, if anything, has become more entrenched. Of the half-dozen or so polls of battleground states published on Wednesday, none showed Mr. Romney ahead; the best result he managed was a 48-48 tie in a Rasmussen Reports poll of New Hampshire.”

So Biden-Ryan debate tonight becomes very important for the remaining four weeks of the election campaign. For the Democrats the goal is to regain the lead and the momentum before Obama’s failed debate and for the Republicans it’s about not losing their new momentum. How will it happen?

I like Matt Miller’s advice to Biden in his weekly column in the Washington Post about what the vice president must do to win the debate. It will not be enough to accuse Romney of being a “liar” – more is needed.

Obama’s approval down – still beats weak republican field

Next year’s election is still far away, but it does not look very good right now for President Obama, according to the Washington Post /ABC poll today. Half of people in the poll disapprove of how Obama handles his job as president, while 47 percent – down from January by seven per cent – approve.

Respondents are particularly unhappy with Obama’s economic policies, with 57 percent disapproving of the way he has dealt with the economy — the highest negative figure since Obama became president.

On the other hand, it does not look very good either for the seven potential Republican presidential candidates. Only 43 percent of Republican supporters in the survey are satisfied with the party’s candidates. In the last election, two thirds were satisfied.

Today, all seven are defeated in separate races against Obama in the poll. Mitt Romney does best, but still loses by 45 percent to Obama’s 49. Sarah Palin does worst, with 38 percent to Obama’s 55th

The weak support for the seven – Romney, Palin, Mike Huckabee, Donald Trump, Michelle Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty, and Newt Gingrich – among the party’s supporters illustrates the fact this is a weak field, with several unfamiliar faces for the broader electorate; Tea Party favorite Michelle Bachmann as too extreme; Trump, the real estate tycoon, who see sees this as a good opportunity for some PR, as a bad joke. And no one knows what Palin is planning.

So, only Romney and maybe Mike Huckabee remain, although Huckabee, who now earns big money on Fox News, has not yet decided if he will run.

The economy continues to be the biggest stumbling block for Obama even though the unemployment figures today must be encouraging for the White House. In all 34 states, unemployment fell in March compared with February and increased in only seven states. Compared with a year ago, unemployment fell in 44 of 50 states. With each new sign of lower unemployment and a stronger economy, the chances of the seven to defeat Obama decrease. A weak field becomes even weaker.

Sarah Palin – a fading star

Sarah Palin is still very much in the news, but her star seems to be fading, judging from the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll this week.

58 per cent of the polled Republicans are favorable towards Palin, compared with 88 percent immediately after the 2008 elections and 70 percent half a year ago.  Palin’s negative numbers have at the same time increased and are now record high, or 37 percent.

That negative figure is significantly higher than for any other potential Republican presidential candidates. Still, she has 2.7 million “likes” on Facebook, earns big money as a Fox News commentator and hundreds of thousands of dollars in his speeches around the country. Since she stepped down as Alaska’s governor, she has become rich.

Palin is a political phenomenon, no doubt about it. But people either love her or hate her, and she has become more polarizing than any other leading Republican.  Will she run for president? No one knows.  On InTrade, the prediction market, only six per cent think she will run.

If she does run, Palin will join a long list of possible republican presidential candidates. And although the campaign has not yet even started, already, Carl Cannon wrote recently on RealClearPolitics, “the nascent 2012 campaign trail is littered with gaffes, slips of the tongue and lapses in historical and geographical knowledge.” He cites among many examples mistakes by Palin about Ronald Reagan, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s assertion that the American Revolution began in New Hampshire, and Mike Huckabee’s claim that Obama spent his youth in Kenya. These gaffes and mistakes are not trivial, wrote Cannon.

Only one third supports Afghan war

The war in Afghanistan is increasingly unpopular in America. Not since 2007, when the Washington Post-ABC News first began asking the American people about the war in Afghanistan, has the support for the war been as low as in the latest poll published on Tuesday.

The new figures show that only 31 per cent think that Afghanistan is “worth fighting for.” Of these, only 19 per cent are Democrats and 27 per cent Independents. In late 2009, 44 percent opposed the war. That figure has now risen to 64 percent.

73 percent of the respondents think that America should withdraw its troops from Afghanistan next summer, but a majority of respondents does not believe that will happen.

Nearly 1,500 U.S. soldiers have died in the Afghanistan war. The U.S. now has over 100,000 soldiers in Afghanistan and a first troop reduction is planned for next summer.

The massive opposition to the Afghanistan war among Democratic and independent voters may compel President Obama to revise his war strategy with view of next year’s elections. It is particularly troubling for Obama that two thirds of the independent voters, whose support paved the way for his election victory in 2008, now do not support the war.