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Romney vs. Obama: Sizing Up the Gaffe Effect

All politicians make the occasional verbal blunder, but most gaffes rarely determine an election's outcome


The gaffe is one of those strange political phenomena that occur every election cycle. Most often they echo through the news cycle and then, as quickly as they came, fade away with less than a whimper.

We believe they matter, that a verbal blunder could make or break an election — even the election for the most powerful job in the world.

So after Mitt Romney's stark dismissal of 47 percent of America blew up earlier this week, Josh Barro wrote for Bloomberg, "You can mark my prediction now: A secret recording from a closed-door Mitt Romney fundraiser ... has killed Mitt Romney's campaign for president."

Tim Stanley wrote for The Telegraph, "Mother Jones has got its hands on a video that could kill Mitt Romney’s chances of being elected president."

But will this video really change anything?

A day after liberal publication Mother Jones released the video, a Gallup daily tracking poll showed that Obama led Romney by just 1 percentage point, 47 to 46 percent, respectively.

A CBS/New York Times/Quinnipiac University poll did show Obama leading in key battleground states. CNN reported:

"In Wisconsin, 55 percent of likely voters say a Romney administration would benefit wealthy people. In Virginia, 56 percent say the same. In Colorado, the number is 54 percent. The number of voters in those swing states who think Romney's policies would favor the middle class? Just about 10 percent."

Some might mistakenly attribute this lead to Romney's gaffe, but as the Huffington Post points out, these statistics were obtained before the secret video aired. So not much has changed.

Here's another example: Remember Obama's 2008, "they cling to guns or religion" gaffe?

Like Romney, Obama was caught apparently pandering to wealthy donors in April before the 2008 presidential election:

"You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

A Gallup Poll taken on April 14, 2008, showed little positive or negative effect from the comments on Obama's popularity with voters.

At the time, Obama was fighting a political battle on two fronts. He still had to beat Hillary Clinton to win his party's nomination, while also countering shots from Sen. John McCain.

The poll shows after his much-publicized donor chatter Obama maintained a 10-point lead over Clinton for the Democratic nomination.


This poll shows Obama actually increased his lead (marginally) over Republican contender McCain in the days and weeks that followed.