Top Democratic strategist James Carville and two leading pollsters from his research group Democracy Corps have released a new strategy memo warning that President Barack Obama needs to change his campaign narrative or “face an impossible headwind in November.” Based on focus groups with independent voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania, the research document lays out exactly why Obama’s economic message isn’t resonating.
The gist is that people don’t believe that the economy is improving — the day-to-day reality of struggling to find a job and pay for retirement, rent, groceries, and gas just doesn’t gel with the idea that things are getting better. Attempts to try to convince voters otherwise are futile.
Here’s the key paragraph:
“It is elites who are creating a conventional wisdom that an incumbent president must run on his economic performance – and therefore must convince voters that things are moving in the right direction. They are wrong, and that will fail. The voters are very sophisticated about the character of the economy; they know who is mainly responsible for what went wrong and they are hungry to hear the President talk about the future. They know we are in a new normal where life is a struggle – and convincing them that things are good enough for those who have found jobs is a fool’s errand. They want to know the plans for making things better in a serious way – not just focused on finishing up the work of the recovery.”
The strategists go on to argue that what voters really want from Obama is some empathy — and a plan for how things will get better in the future. They don’t want to hear about what he thinks he’s already done.
The research document comes at a particularly low point for Obama’s campaign, which has struggled to recover from last month’s dismal jobs report and Friday’s “private sector” gaffe. The President is expected to refocus his message in a major jobs speech in Michigan this week, but it is not clear what that address will entail.
There is a silver lining, however, according to Carville and his two co-authors, Democracy Corps pollsters Stan Greenberg and Erica Seifert. Their testing found that Obama’s Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, is actually in much worse shape.
From the memo:
“Romney is damaged heading into this race. Many of his supporters have trouble saying anything positive, simply he is “not Obama.” Respondents immediately volunteer that Romney is rich, out of touch, and in the pocket for Wall Street and big finance…
We gave respondents a fact sheet about Mitt Romney and asked them to indicate which items were most significant for them, both positive and negative. The top six responses were all negative and all focused on Mitt Romney’s personal wealth, Wall Street connections, and cavalier attitude toward those less fortunate. The single most important issue for these voters was that Romney holds millions in an offshore account.”
Still, as the strategists point out, relying on a “devil you know” preference is hardly going to inspire the enthusiasm and engagement Democrats need to turn out voters in the fall.
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