Americans split on who they think will win the election

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks for a sound check during the final day of the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on August 30, 2012 in Tampa, Fla.

Kai Ryssdal: Politicians can talk and pontificate and speechify all they want, but once all's said and done, voters are the one's who have to figure out what they really think.

Frank Newport is the editor-in-chief at Gallup, where what they do is ask Americans what they think about things. He's back to give us a little Attitude Check. Frank, good to talk to you.

Frank Newport: Good to be with you, Kai.

Ryssdal: You guys just had some numbers about who Americans think is going to win. Give me those numbers, and then I have a question for you.

Newport: All right. Fifty-eight percent of Americans think that Barack Obama will be elected president on Nov. 6; 36 percent say it'll be Mitt Romney. Those data come from the exact same people who when you ask, 'Who are you going to vote for personally?' are split right down the middle.

Ryssdal: Oh is that right?

Newport: Yeah.

Ryssdal: That's crazy.

Newport: So the ballot itself, when you ask American voters who are you going to vote for, it's split. But when you say, 'All right, tell us who's going to win in your heart of hearts?" It tilts significantly towards Obama. And a lot of it is caused by Romney voters who say 'I'm voting for Romney but if you really press me, I think Obama's going to win.'

Ryssdal: OK, now: How much of what happens in presidential elections is a self-fulfilling prophecy based on that split of who people think is going to win, if you take my meaning?

Newport: Yeah, oh absolutely. You put your finger on something that's called the bandwagon effect, which some people have argued there is a momentum or an inevitability created by somebody who people think is going to win. Hard to prove that. There's also the theory, Kai, that there's an anti-bandwagon effect, so that if people think they're behind, they're going to work even harder. That would be Romney's supporters in this situation.

Ryssdal: Another thing that's come up in this election of course, Frank, is who's better on the economy: Gov. Romney wins that one fairly handily. But President Obama has the likeability factor going for him; polls much stronger than the governor does on that one. Is either of those predictive?

Newport: They're both predictive, and they both kind of describe the election. How both gentlemen should play this out is a fascinating question. My view is that probably we all do better playing off our strengths, and that would be for Mitt Romney rather than trying to be likeable suddenly, in his speech hammering home the economy and why he thinks he can do a better job than Barack Obama.

Ryssdal: And then the president next week, does he give a likeability speech?

Newport: Well you know, that's his strength, so literally he just has to be himself, because he's been himself over the last four years. And the one thing we see in the data is Barack Obama is substantially more likeable based on what voters tell us than his opponent Mitt Romney.

Ryssdal: Frank Newport, he is the editor-in-chief at Gallup. Frank, thanks a lot.

Newport: My pleasure.

About the author

Frank Newport, Ph.D., is the editor-in-chief at Gallup and appears regularly on Marketplace.

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