On the eve of the final presidential debate, the polls are wildly mixed on who is ahead in election 2012.
The Real Clear Politics Electoral College map now shows Republican Mitt Romney with a five point lead ahead of Obama, but with 10 states still “toss-ups” and very much in play — each critical battleground states that Obama seems to be mostly winning.
Romney is also seeing continued snowballing momentum since the first presidential debate in early October: In the first comprehensive national survey taken after the second presidential debate (which many pundits claimed President Barack Obama won) the right-leaning Rasmussen polling agency shows that Romney is still ahead in the polls by 1 percentage point.
Obama, then, did not see the same sort of polling bump from “winning” the second presidential debate as Romney saw from “winning” the first presidential debate (winning here is in quotes, as it is a completely qualitative measure to claim that a candidate can win these loosely defined debate “competitions”).
So. Here we are with just under 17 days until the election, in more-or-less statistical open water, with nothing conclusive to point to.
No candidate is pulling ahead in any sort of jump that seems long-lasting. As such, the next and final presidential debate on Monday will be yet another critical make-or-break battle for Obama and Romney to prove their worth to the public.
The debate will focus on foreign policy, an area which Obama is stronger than Romney. Obama, by default, has had four years of direct foreign policy experience in which he has more or less kept a stable ship. There have been no major foreign policy epic fails, and there have been huge foreign public relations #wins — most notably the killing of Osama bin Laden. Obama has a four point edge over Romney on "who is better at making foreign policy decisions?," but when you get into more specific questions about foreign policy, the results are more mixed.
Still, Americans — in all of our wisdom and greatness — want moremoremore from our foreign policy leaders: to dominate our perceived enemies (of which there are always new ones popping up), to remain the sole world super power (a title in which there are now competitors), and to do it all with as little American deaths or spending as possible. When it comes to foreign policy, Obama won’t be judged for his past record, but on his future intentions, which he must deftly relate to the average American.
And what is the average American thinking? It’s a muddled opinion of 1) Destroy Iran, 2) without going to war, 3) while erasing the debt, 4) while keeping China in check, 4) while keeping the world economy booming, 5) while not exporting jobs overseas.
To meet these bi-polar demands, policy makers have recently shifted to a range of controversial solutions including (but not limited to) drone warfare, sanctions, trade pacts, trade wars, invasive counter-terror, isolationism, and hard/soft diplomacy.
Phew, this foreign policy debate will cover a lot in 90 minutes.
So how should the candidates pander to voters in the Monday debate?
Here’s what’s on the minds of voters, according to a new Pew Poll:
1) Bizarrely, a majority of Americans (54%) continue to say it is more important to have stable governments in the Middle East, even if there is less democracy in the region. Just 30% say democratic governments are more important, even if there is less stability.
2) Americans want the government to take a tougher stance on Iran and China, a trend that has jumped since January. Americans are growing less and less enthusiastic about engaging in military action with Iran, an opinion that has also become more popular since January. Most Americans want to get the hell out of Afghanistan ASAP, btw.
3) Israel. Overall, Americans are split in their views about the level of U.S. support for Israel. While a 41% plurality say that the level of American support for Israel is about right, 22% say the U.S. is too supportive, and about as many (25%) say it is not supportive enough. Views on U.S. support for Israel are deeply divided along partisan lines. Nearly half (46%) of Republicans say the U.S. is not supportive enough of Israel, compared with just 9% of Democrats and 24% of independents.
4) Libya? Most Americans probably don’t know where Libya is on a map, don’t understand the tribal nature of North Africa, don’t get the Arab-African-Muslim culture of North Africa, and don’t have a clear opinion on whether or not Libya plays a significant strategic military role in international relations for the U.S. But, for whatever reason, Libya matters. A strange conservative conspiracy has taken root since the assassination of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, challenging the Obama administration over whether is considers the assassination to be the work of an angry mob, or out-right terrorism (to which the Obama administration has answered as both). This challenge is based in zero policy discussion (unfortunately a U.S. ambassador was killed … but mob or terrorism, the U.S. probably couldn’t have prevented the death) and seems to only seek to “out” the president as a liar. None-the-less, expect Libya to be a hot issue.
The story of October has been the come-from-behind surge of Romney in the polls, and the Republican is only continuing his momentum. Some analyses show that Romney may be just a swing state away from holding enough states to win the Electoral College. How does foreign policy play into all of this? If Romney plays his cards right and says all the right things Re: foreign policy in Monday’s debate, he could build even more momentum in the final 15 days of this election.
The world will be watching….