Will Romney’s “dog problem” hound him forever?
Given the widespread publicity that Mitt Romney’s “dog problem” continues to receive – it was on the front page of the Washington Post just last week – it’s no surprise that a polling group decided to see if the issue could resonate at the ballot box, or merely be the crate-gate scandal that launched a thousand late-night jokes.
The story, discovered by the Boston Globe in 2007, goes something like this. In 1983 Romney, then a 36-year-old rising star in the private equity world, loaded up the family station wagon with five sons and luggage for a long trek from Boston to Ontario, Canada. Seamus, the family’s Irish Setter, was put into his dog crate, which was then strapped to the top of the car. Romney’s plan was to make the 12-hour drive with customary pinpoint precision, stopping just once for gas, snacks and ablutions. But Seamus, whether terrified or over-excited, at some point soiled himself, as the boys discovered when they saw brown liquid running down the car window. Romney, the efficiency expert, quickly pulled into a nearby gas station to hose down the car, and the dog, calm down the kids, and get back on the road.
The ancient tale has spawned dozens of newspaper articles and television segments, especially as Romney has become 2012’s presumptive GOP nominee. It has also created its own protest movement, Dogs Against Romney, which has close to 42,000 followers on Facebook.
Public Policy Polling, a Democratic polling company, found that the story, as a proxy for Romney’s general demeanor and level of empathy, was having a negative impact on the former Massachusetts governor’s image.
“The generic description of what Romney did to Seamus is seen as humane by only 14 percent of Americans and as inhumane by 68 percent,” the group said. “There is tripartisan agreement on that front — 74 percent of Democrats, 66 percent of independents, and 63 percent of the GOP.”
Women were particularly struck by the Seamus issue. When informed that Romney had strapped his dog’s kennel to the roof of his car for a long road trip, 42 percent of women said Romney’s actions made them less likely to vote for him, versus 28 percent of men. Overall, 35 percent of those surveyed said the incident made them less likely to vote for the Republican front-runner, although a majority – 55 percent – said it did not make a difference.
In the PPP survey of 900 voters, 37 percent said Barack Obama would be a better president for dogs, versus 21 percent who chose Romney. Sixteen percent of Republicans crossed over to Obama on that issue, versus only 11 percent of Democrats who chose Romney.
The Obamas received Bo, their male Portuguese Water Dog, in April 2009 as a gift from late Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy.
Photo credit: Mitt Romney and his grandson Parker greet a dog as they arrive for a campaign stop at the Sun City retirement community in Bluffton, South Carolina, January 16, 2008. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Photo credit: Mitt Romney holds a town hall meeting at Gateway Convention Center in Collinsville, Illinois, March 17, 2012. REUTERS/Sarah Conard