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Campaign debates surround economics and social issues

Nicole Michels | Friday, August 24, 2012

As the new school year begins and the weather cools, the presidential race is just beginning to heat up.

Months of contentious debate have highlighted the economy as the issue of greatest concern to the electorate. Americans are considering whether President Barack Obama’s progress on reviving the U.S. economy warrants reelection, or if it’s time for Republican challenger Mitt Romney to try his hand.

Political science professor Peri Arnold said most of the national polls indicate the race is extremely close, with Obama ahead by narrow margins.

“A compilation of national polls show that Obama’s running about a percent ahead … That’s tight,” Arnold said. “When you look at the key swing states, Obama is leading in most of those by a very small percent.”

However, American Studies professor Jack Colwell said these projections leave plenty of opportunity for Romney to gain favor before Election Day on November 6.

“The economy is still the biggest problem for the president, and if some figures come out before the election that show the economy worsening, that could swing some voters,” Colwell said. “The president has to convince people that yes, he can turn around the economy.”

Arnold said the lack of marked improvement in the economy is an obvious target issue for the Republican Party. Romney’s campaign, however, has failed to fully exploit this weakness.

“Presidents with that kind of economy don’t generally get reelected,” Arnold said. “The Romney campaign keeps getting bogged down in other matters, and when that happens, the economy as an issue seems to fade into the background.”

Colwell said these other matters revolve around the Republican’s struggle to retain appeal in light of the actions and words of some of the Party’s members.

“Mitt Romney’s big problem is the Republican brand,” Colwell said. “Some of the things happening this week like, [Rep.] Todd Akin’s [R-Miss.] speech in Missouri have made it clear that people are really down on both parties, they’re more down on the Republican party.”

After picking Ryan as his running mate, Romney’s connection to more conservative Republicans has been strengthened and the gender gap has widened, Colwell said.

“People keep talking about the fact that Ryan and Akin sponsored a bill that defined categories of rape and what ‘legitimate’ rape is,” he said. “There was a huge gender gap already, but this accentuates that gap.”

Arnold said Ryan’s politics remain on the periphery of what many Americans believe.

“I think that initially, the Ryan pick was a good pick,” Arnold said. “Romney has not proven to be a good campaign performer, but now he seems energized. The problem is that Ryan is extremely conservative and that the details of the Ryan budget include lots of things the Americans don’t like.”

Colwell said Romney’s overseas trip earlier this month hurt his image in the eyes of the voters.

“He had a number of stumbles there,” Colwell said. “That won’t decide the election, but that was just another one of those things that caused people to say ‘Oh, wait a minute, do we want this guy as president?'”

Arnold said this trip reflected Romney’s unease at being in the spotlight.

“One of Romney’s greatest problems is that he’s not an easy public speaker,” Arnold said. “He’s afraid to reveal himself, and gets caught up in these malapropisms and saying the wrong things.”

Competing with Obama’s likeability and oratorical skill are two of the hurdles in Romney’s road to the presidency, Colwell said.

“People seem still to like Obama personally,” Colwell said. “They think he’s a decent person and a good family man trying to do the best that he can. “[Voters might] trust him more.”

Colwell said the Republican political action committees (PACs) are able to outspend the Democrat backers, giving the GOP greater resources to reach voters with.

“The Super-PACs with their negative attack ads, they’ll be able to spend more and dent Obama’s likeability,” Colwell said. “They will bring up things, especially on the economy that will portray him as being too far to the left.”

Political science professor Vincent Munoz said another potential roadblock for Obama is a perceived assault on religious liberty by the Obama administration.

“He’s not been very accommodating to the concerns that Catholics and other religious groups have [expressed] about religious liberty.”

Munoz said though many Catholics have voted for Democrats because of their perceived support of social justice initiatives, this might not remain the case on Election Day.

“The question is, do people who voted for Obama in 2008 feel so burdened by the administration that they might switch their vote?” Munoz said.

Munoz said he is interested to see how young voters act on Election Day.

“I think the growing question in our politics is whether the huge debt that we’ve been accumulating is unjust to younger generations,” Munoz said. “I asked my classes this afternoon, ‘Are any of you going to get Social Security?’ and not a single hand went up. This is morally problematic.”