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June 12, 2012 3:02 PM Compare, Compare, Compare

By Ed Kilgore

A new Democracy Corps report based on focus groups composed of independents plus “weak” Democrats and Republicans (non-college educated folk in Columbus, OH and college-educated voters in suburban Philly) advises the president to abandon efforts to convince these voters that the economy is doing better and better each day, and in general to fight the framing of the election as a referendum on the economy during his administration:

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.
We are losing these voters on the economy, but holding on because Romney is very vulnerable. They do not trust him because of who he is for and because he’s out of touch with ordinary people; he is vulnerable on the Ryan budget and its impact on people; he is vulnerable on the choices over taxes
.

The report goes into rich detail on the struggles of these voters in the current economic environment, and their refusal to believe “things are getting better.” They clearly like Obama better than Romney, but want to hear the president talk about his plans for the future rather than his claims of accomplishment in the past, and need to hear him talk about Romney’s agenda.

By far, the strongest [positive] message was one focused on the future of the middle class — with minimal discussion of the recovery and jobs created and maximal empathy for the challenges people face. Most voters identified with the line that “the middle class has taken it on the chin for years.” The message turns mid-way to what we will do, beginning with raising taxes on those earning over $200,000 to make the economy work better for the middle class. It taps into their frustrations that began building before the recession even hit and recognizes that this election needs to be about the “future of the middle class.”

In terms of Romney, constant reminders of his own wealth (particularly his offshore accounts) damage the Republican. As for his agenda:

Romney’s support for the Ryan budget is a real vulnerability. Many voters are not familiar with the Ryan budget or Romney’s full-throated support for it. When informed about the budget’s contents and Romney’s endorsement, voters’ worst fears about Romney are confirmed.

And it’s not just a matter of endlessly talking about Medicare:

These participants—especially the non-college-educated men who have been affected personally or know someone who has—are very sensitive to cuts in Medicaid, to disability, and food stamps. People rely on these programs-and the protection of Social Security and Medicare. They just can’t fathom billions of dollars in cuts to these programs. Anger increases when the proposal is juxtaposed with cutting taxes for millionaires. In addition, the college-educated men seemed to recognize that when these programs are cut at the bottom, the whole economy is affected because people are unable to get ahead, spend money, and get the economy going again.

What’s striking about Democracy Corps’ suggested message for swing voters is how close it is to a message “base” voters will respond to as well. Those urging Obama to stop “going negative” and offer sunny assessments of how wonderful life is becoming are missing the boat by a mile; they don’t comport with voters’ own experiences, and run the risk of making the president look as out of touch as Romney. The most important three words Team Obama needs to hear are: compare, compare, compare. That’s not just smart politics, but an accurate reflection of the big choices voters will actually be making in November.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • c u n d gulag on June 12, 2012 3:23 PM:

    I often suspect that a lot of these "Democratic Consultants are actually Conservatives in sheep's clothing - or, 'Conservative Insultant's,' if you will.

    And that once you tear their suit and shirt off, you'll see a big red "R" on their chests that stand for "Republican Man!"

    There's almost none of them that I see on MSNBC, or some other news channel/show, that thinks anything even CLOSE to what I think.

    And half their advice sounds like it comes from Bill "Feckin'" Kristol.

    Mark Penn being "Exhibit A!"
    Doug Schoen being "Exhibit 1A" - though, to give him SOME credit, he's far, far, better than Penn. But that ain't sayin' much...

  • stormskies on June 12, 2012 3:33 PM:

    This message from the Democracy Corps is so clear, and so right on, that it is rather stunning that Obama and his advisers have not yet understood the same thing.

    Within this clear message should also be what he has begun to do which is talk about the actual laws that he had proposed, like the Jobs Act, that have all been defeated by the Repiglicans. And frame the reality of what those laws would create for the middle class.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on June 12, 2012 3:40 PM:

    It is simply WAY past the time, WAY past argument that the Democrats simply tear the GOP a new asswhole. It would be very, very simple. Dispense with the politically correct euphemistic standards of political speech and say the truth in language people use. End of discussion.

    Seriously? If you can't make Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Mitt Romney out to be the dicks they are, you are simply politically incompetent.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on June 12, 2012 3:44 PM:

    Oh, and one more thing. Do you really need focus group studies to tell you this? Seriously? How much more evidence of cluelessness is necessary if that is so?

  • Xenos on June 12, 2012 3:54 PM:

    Instead of "compare, compare, compare" should we not say "contrast, contrast, contrast"? It is a pretty important distinction.

    The one think that most killed Gore was the sense that, as a conservative Democrat, he was not that different from a Republican, and so voters went with the authentic guy instead of the milquetoast guy. Obama's lesson from this should be to distinguish, contrast, and define himself away from Republican values, priorities, and projects, in every way possible.

    People understand that the last 3.5 years have been a muddling through, in terms of policy and and in terms of pragmatics. Give them some values and projects to vote for, and they will come around.

  • Ron Byers on June 12, 2012 4:07 PM:

    DisgustedWithItAll on June 12, 2012 3:44 PM:

    Oh, and one more thing. Do you really need focus group studies to tell you this? Seriously? How much more evidence of cluelessness is necessary if that is so?

    Yes you do need focus group studies. Remember the Democratic decision makers all live in and around Washington DC. That is about the only city in America that hasn't suffered during this depression. The folks in the DNC and the Washington media elite don't have a clue. None of them and none of their friends have suffered the last years. They need a focus group to put them in touch with reality.

  • emjayay on June 12, 2012 4:08 PM:

    I have been pointing for years that Obama has always been vague on the big picture (HopeandChange!) and always sands the edges off the particulars. He ends up sounding intelligent and knowledgeable except to the "He said 57 states once and uses a teleprompter because he's not too bright because of being you know, kind of black" crowd. But too complicated and indirect which contributes to the "he thinks he's smarter than us and some sort of elite" idea while not giving people simple concepts to hang onto.

    I attribute this to a life of being the odd kid out in every situation and wanting to get along and not alienate anyone. So there was never a Bush Crash or a Bush Deficit or ever any talk about the criminality of the Bush administration. And the tendency to precompromise and half adopt the erroneous arguements of the opposition.

    I don't understand why his highly paid top pro advisers and their focus groups and surveying haven't straightened him out on this stuff. Read this report. There's tons of gold there. Obama's people should have already understood this stuff.

    From the report:

    I’m getting paid $7.70 an hour …I’m 53 years old…If I want a job, that’s what I’ve got to do. And actually… I’m having problems trying to get a full-time job because people are looking at it and saying, you know, we’ve only got a couple years. Most companies are looking and saying, we probably got a couple good years out of you, possibly less, that’s about it. And I mean, they all – used to be the laws were there that says, actually, you’re supposed to get two, 10-minute breaks… and a half hour lunch. Laws have changed now, companies don’t have to give that… And they’re working us to the bone. It’s like, wow, we’re back in the 1900s, you know…Because you’re just slave labor, you know. (Non-college-educated man, Columbus, OH)

  • college-educated woman, Atlanta, GA on June 12, 2012 4:33 PM:

    i can't help but wonder if 'Non-college-educated man, Columbus, OH' voted for Ronald Reagan, who put us on the road to where we are now.

  • T2 on June 12, 2012 4:38 PM:

    "Seriously? If you can't make Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Mitt Romney out to be the dicks they are, you are simply politically incompetent."
    well, yeah.
    But there's more than that. The "dicks" you mention are very politically competent. They know what to do for politics and care little if it involves lying, screwing the poor or elderly or any of that. It's POLITICS not Policy. When the Dems attempt to fight policy with policy, they are simply swinging at windmills. There is nothing for them to hit. That is shown most clearly by the Romney Campaign....notice the complete lack of any hard, fully developed plans or programs (nothing to hit). Notice the complete lack of any actual, real Press Conferences (no way to hit). They wait for Obama to serve, they volley. They don't serve. (no way to hit back). So like Don Quixote, Obama's left flailing at the wind.

  • DAY on June 12, 2012 4:38 PM:

    Did you ever wonder why there are several different GEICO "spokes creatures" and why the ads run 24/7? Because Geico is part of Warren Buffet's empire, and Warren Buffet ain't stupid.

    Like the mule that needs a 2x4 to get his attention, American minds wander and are easily distracted by 'reality' shows and the need to hit the drive thru for dinner, because the spouse is working a double shift and the kids want a movie from the rental machine, and what's a focus group? Didn't we just HAVE an election?

    The message needs to be in simple, declarative sentences, with two syllable words, and Memorable. Sort of like gulag, without the naughty bits. . .

  • T2 on June 12, 2012 4:44 PM:

    oh my god.....apparently the Romney's have horses that are qualifying to be in the Olympics! Lots of folks have horses, of course, but to be high enough breed, and trained enough to qualify for the Olympics (with a rider of course)....major dollars!

    well, as the post said, "The most important three words Team Obama needs to hear are: compare, compare, compare."

  • PVB on June 12, 2012 4:50 PM:

    This another great piece of work by the Democracy Corps. One would hope that last week’s job numbers would sober up the Obama campaign and the White House so that they adopt the view that “this election is about the future of the middle class.” In fact, they should now be writing the convention speech where Obama accepts the nomination, and there should be some lines that say:

    “Democrats ordinarily don’t like litmus tests. But these are not ordinary times. The fact is that the American middle class has been in decline for 30 years, and we need to reverse that. So I WILL have a litmus test for my second term: ‘Does each and every policy rebuild the middle class or not?’ If the policy does help rebuild the middle class, I will fight anybody and everybody to get it done. And if the policy undercuts the effort to rebuild the middle class, I will fight anybody and everybody to stop it. It’s that simple. Read my lips: We’re going to rebuild the middle class!”

  • Kathryn on June 12, 2012 5:04 PM:

    I like it PVB, pay attention Chicago and also pay attention to Democracy Corps while you're at it.

  • Joe Friday on June 12, 2012 5:26 PM:

    I agree that the campaign needs to lay out plans for the future, but they may well be saving that for after Labor Day when more people are paying attention and there will be less time for the RightWing to lie about it, but I disagree about not repeatedly reminding people just how far we've come from the negative 9% GDP and losing 850,000 jobs a month as he was inaugurated.

  • bdop4 on June 12, 2012 5:36 PM:

    "When the Dems attempt to fight policy with policy, they are simply swinging at windmills. There is nothing for them to hit. That is shown most clearly by the Romney Campaign....notice the complete lack of any hard, fully developed plans or programs (nothing to hit)."

    But isn't that a campaign issue in of itself? One policy position is clear: Romney has issued his full-throated support for the Ryan Plan. That alone should take him down.

  • babs60645 on June 13, 2012 1:38 PM:

    Joe Friday is right. It's early in the campaign.

    I suspect Axelrod and Co. have some good stuff in the tool bag. But I fear Elder Romney's corporate buddies have some deep pockets. Whatever the message, the result will depend on money, just like everything else (heavy sigh).

  • gdb on June 13, 2012 4:39 PM:

    Yup, Yup. BHO and his team are going to stop doing what they been going for three plus years and admit the 2009 stimulus was inadequate, that we need much more stimulus,real health care reform most people can see and experience, there won't be a chicken in every pot tomorrow, etc-- and they have a believable plan to correct these problems.
    When pigs fly. Get used to the re-election formula of BHO and the dems aren't proposing much but they're better than the whack jobs that are Mittens and the Repubs. Not exactly a slogan to turn out the Dem troops.