Ryan’s New Mantra: Are You Better Off Now?

Rebecca Kaplan

On the eve of the Democratic National Convention, Republicans are hoping to blunt any bounce in the polls for President Obama by dispatching vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan to hammer home the message that Americans are not better off than they were four years ago.

“We’re gonna hear a lot of words from Charlotte this week. But here’s the kind of words we’re not gonna hear: We’re not gonna hear evidence and facts about how people are better off,” Ryan told a crowd of more than 2,000 people at East Carolina University during a rally on Monday. “You see, the president cannot run on this record. He’s run out of ideas. And so, that is why he’s going to be running a campaign based on envy and division, based on
frustration and anger.” Ryan referenced inconsistent answers that some top Democrats had given over the weekend in response to interview questions about whether Americans are better off now than they were four years ago, the quadrennial question facing incumbents seeking reelection.

“Every president since the Great Depression who asked Americans to send them into a second term could say that you are better off today than you were four years ago,” Ryan said, “except for Jimmy Carter and for President Barack Obama.”

He ticked off a list of measures—the jobless rate, bankruptcy filings, and delinquent mortgage payments—that he said were better under Carter than they are now. Carter lost his bid for a second term in 1980 to Republican Ronald Reagan. “Simply put, the Jimmy Carter years look like the good old days compared to where we are right now,” said Ryan, who plans to continue the message into Tuesday.

A Gallup Poll released on Monday showed that Mitt Romney’s convention address did little to move the dial for him with voters. Forty percent of adults surveyed said that Romney’s speech on Thursday made them more likely to vote for him, just 2 percentage points higher than the 38 percent who said it made them less likely to vote for him. Among independents, 36 percent said they were more likely to vote for Romney after his speech, and 33 percent said they were less likely. Thirty percent said the speech made no difference.

Those results were comparable to the impact of convention speeches by Republican candidates John McCain in 2008 and George W. Bush in 2004, according to Gallup. Romney received the lowest marks for the quality of his convention speech of any nominee since Bob Dole in 1996.

Back in 2008, Obama saw some convention bounce from his address, with a Gallup Poll showing that 43 percent of voters said they were more likely to support him after the speech, while 29 percent said they were less likely. The sharpest impact from a convention speech was in 1992, when 60 percent of Americans said it made them more likely to vote for Democratic candidate Bill Clinton; just 15 percent said otherwise.

Romney spent the Labor Day holiday out of the public eye at his summer home in Wolfeboro, N.H., with his wife, Ann. The former Massachusetts governor is scheduled to spend the next three days at the Vermont home of Kerry Healey, who served as his lieutenant governor, holding practice sessions for the fall debates.

Romney will be joined for some of the sessions by Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, who will portray Obama in mock debates, a role he also played for McCain in 2008.

Ryan on Tuesday will make his fifth trip to the swing state of Ohio for a rally in Westlake, a Cleveland suburb. Afterward, he’ll travel to Iowa for stops in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines.