Independents are likely to be crucial in deciding whether Barack Obama secures a second term in the White House or whether his likely GOP challenger Mitt Romney ousts him. A new poll released today and conducted for the moderate Democratic Third Way think tank suggests that Obama is sitting pretty when it comes to independents in battleground states. Fifty-seven percent of swing independents view the President favorably compared to 41 percent being inclined to Romney.
Further good news for the Democrats comes when the pollsters drill down on the economy. The two parties are in a statistical tie when it comes to whom independents trust to manage the economy; and on taxes, traditionally a GOP strength, Obama has a six point lead over the Republcians.
But the President’s support is soft. A key finding generally is that swing independents are concerned with opportunity more than fairness. According to Third Way co-founder Jim Kessler, “What they’re really worried about is the country slipping. They’re not sure their family is going to reach the heights they expected. They’re relatively sure China will have the world’s leading economy in 15 years. They’re looking for someone to answer that.”
And the President doesn’t so that when he stresses fairness more than opportunity. It is something the Republican group Amrerican Crossroads has picked up on. It plans to launch an ad blitz and according to one of the organization’s strategists, Steven Law, the spots will go softly on the President to avoid offending independents with too much negativity but will question whether Obama is up to the job of fixing America.
Not so sure Michael Gerson is right when he says in a Washington Post column today that “it is the agenda that undermined the idiom” and blames President Obama’s politics for the loss of his communication power. On the other side of the aisle, partisan divisions over the role of government have been sharpened in the UK by the Coalition’s cost-cutting agenda but Prime Minister Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg are communicating far more effectively than Obama now and seem to be taking more people along with them.
Maybe we over-estimated Obama when we heard him out on the presidential campaign trail, mistaking rhetorical flash and dash for overall communication understanding and ability. Maybe we were overcome by the contrast between an eloquent Obama and a stumbling Bush — here was a man who could speak in grammatical, flowing sentences. Now Obama seems flat, professorial and ponderous.
And maybe Obama is losing confidence in speaking to the nation as a whole and is resorting to what most politicians do when under pressure — namely, speak just to their base, hence the narrow feel of his rhetoric now, the exclusivity as opposed to the inclusivity that was emphasized during the campaign. Gerson is surely right when he describes the President’s recent forays beyond Washington DC. “In Milwaukee, Obama was the feisty street fighter with a union card. But, without humor, his jabs seemed sour and mocking. In Cleveland, Obama personalized the economic argument by repeatedly attacking House Minority Leader John Boehner — as though Americans have any idea who this tanned and sinister figure might be.”
It isn’t just the President’s own performances that are off the mark. The communication strategy of he White House has been flawed from the start. Why not more about the economy from the moment Obama set foot in the White House, after all the polls consistently highlighted the economy and unemployment as the number one anxiety? Only now is Obama talking more about the economy and focusing on it. Neither of his two Oval Office addresses were on the economy. Has anyone over at the White House heard of FDR’s “fireside chats”?