TAMPA, Fla. - As the Republican convention kicks into high gear this week, don't expect the headliners to spend much time discussing the Dodd-Frank Act, much less its specific parts.
Instead, count on hearing in more general terms about overregulation and the burden it imposes on small business.
Political conventions are highly choreographed affairs, and the messages that get broadcast on prime-time TV are generally those that poll well. While the GOP clearly believes that over-regulation, broadly speaking, is a winning message, they are wary of criticizing Wall Street reform, which remains politically popular.
"The problem is that most people don't know what's in Dodd-Frank," said Whit Ayres, co-founder of the GOP polling firm Resurgent Republic, after an appearance here Monday. "And they don't really understand it until you start to explain it."
"So from my perspective from doing public opinion, the numbers differ totally by what information I provide to them. It is a very complicated law, and it's very difficult to get public opinion numbers that I trust on it, other than the general sense that we've got too many regulations that are hurting economic growth."
In a new survey of likely voters, Ayres' firm found that 57% agree with the statement that the federal government has too many regulations that make it harder to create jobs, while only 33% hold the view that the government has too few regulations to hold private businesses accountable.
That's seemingly in sharp contrast to a July survey of likely voters by Lake Research Partners, a Democratic polling firm, which found that 73% of voters support tougher rules and enforcement for Wall Street financial firms.
How to explain the divergence between the two polls? It may partly be a result of partisan pollsters' phrasing questions in ways that elicit the answers they want to receive.
But there's also an issue of the general versus the specific. When voters tell pollsters that there is too much regulation, they may be thinking of environmental rules, or state licensing laws. Specific questions about financial regulation, or consumer protection, are likely to elicit different responses.
Democrats, for example, clearly think they are on solid ground focusing on consumer financial protection. The key architect of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, is scheduled to speak at their convention next week in Charlotte.
For the GOP, the message about overregulation will connect to their larger theme about job creation, which they see as President Obama's main vulnerability.
"It will be about jobs," former Republican Sen. Norm Coleman said this week when asked about the party's message. "The subtext about jobs is the impact of regulation."
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