Do gaffes matter?

A string of gaffes from Mitt Romney begs the question if they have an impact on public opinion.

Most people running for public office accidentally have gaffes, or unintended mistakes that can have a negative impact on their campaign. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, for example, has had a few gaffes that have made national headlines in recent weeks.

Shortly after Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, was killed during an attack in Benghazi, along with three of his staffers, Mitt Romney seized the opportunity to attack President Barack Obama’s foreign policy. Many politicians and pundits on both sides of the aisle attacked him for his insensitive comments.

Less than a week later, footage from a private speech that Romney gave to a group of wealthy donors exposed his antipathy against the 47 percent of Americans who do not pay income taxes. Other tidbits from the footage included his remarks about how Palestinians never want peace and how it would have been easier for him politically if his father was born in Mexico.

Let us not forget about the apparent controversy over his recent interview with Univision, the primary Spanish channel in the U.S. Anyone watching the interview would note a substantial difference in Romney’s skin tone. He looked much darker than he did only a few days before. This has raised speculation as to whether he tanned his skin in order to court Latino voters, with whom he is trying to establish support. Though Romney was campaigning in particularly sunny locations prior, the situation still appeared as an embarrassment in national headlines. Redditors have already begun forming new Internet memes, such as the “we are the 47 percent” and the “Romney Oompa-Loompa” memes, the latter based upon the spray-tan conspiracy.

In response to Romney’s recent gaffes, some have made the claim that he has already lost the election. Logically, though, can we conclude that Romney’s gaffes will significantly decrease his odds of beating Obama this November?

The answer is no. This is because most Americans already know who they are voting for. Liberal partisans will only use Romney’s gaffes as further evidence to support their own beliefs and polarize similar voters. Conservative partisans, however, will react in various ways: They will declare that the media coverage is a distraction from the real issues, that there is some truth behind his statements or that he was dead-wrong with his comments but will still vote for him.

We now know that both liberals and conservatives would support the candidate on their side of the political spectrum, regardless of the gaffes. That leaves the independent and undecided voters, the ones that politicians pander in order to win elections. But are they actually impacted by gaffes? The answer is also no.

The reason is two-fold. First, according to a Pew Research study, most independent voters are almost as partisan as liberals and conservatives. These are largely the independents that already have prior partisan inclinations. Also, the ones that are truly independent are the “swing voters,” the ones that rely more upon general likability rather than day-to-day political news and daily gaffes.

As much as pundits — and columnists — love to paint a grim picture for politicians, their rhetoric really doesn’t hold true. Despite Romney’s gaffes, he hasn’t, and will not, lose much support due to them, even if that would sound like the most logical explanation.