Election Oracle

Why Romney Can’t Seal the Deal

02.15.12 12:33 PM ET

It has been 259 days since Mitt Romney announced his bid for the White House on a small farm in New Hampshire. And yet here he is, eight months later, having won a handful of primaries and with more than $60 million raised, still unable to sustain key momentum.

Romney's predicament boils down to a severe inability to drive the narrative, getting eclipsed by constant new surges and flash media memes. His ups and downs aren't ho-hum, they're dramatic. Each time he wins a primary, like in New Hampshire, Florida, or Nevada, the public falls in love anew, awarding him high favorability online, according to the Election Oracle. Each time he loses, like in South Carolina or Missouri, he's relegated not to the couch, but to the doghouse outside in the middle of February. As Rick Santorum publicly charts his path toward Michigan and Ohio, Romney now finds his rating at -33, lower than any other candidate's.

To determine its favorability ratings, the Election Oracle tracks 40,000 news sites, blogs, message boards, Twitter feeds, and other social-media sources to analyze what millions of people are saying about the candidates—and determines whether the web buzz is positive or negative. That rating is weighted, along with the Real Clear Politics polling average and the latest InTrade market data, to calculate each candidate’s chances of winning the Republican nomination. (See methodology here.)

Romney's malaise, likely, is the result if an uninspiring vision and a shaky economic message. The latter accuses President Obama of economic malfeasance but unravels a bit each time the economy shows signs of life. The governor's biggest liabiity continues to be his moderate policies as governor he now disavows, including expanding health care and supporting a woman's right to choose to have an abortion. Former rival Rick Perry said over the weekend that Romney needs to admit his past mistakes, not spin them.

Odds are Romney will still win the nomination. The Election Oracle shows his chances of wrapping up the prize are still almost twice as high as those of his next challenger, Santorum. But Romney's whiplash favorability online might be a much bigger problem in the general election. Constant break-ups then make-ups are symptoms of a bored Republican base unwilling to accept what may be inevitable. It's a common Washington-ism that elections are decided in the middle, not on the edges. So perhaps Romney, who in the past has been a moderate conservative on social and economic issues, can woo independents. But if the base stays home, yawning at the television, then he loses big time.

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