Political Animal

Blog

January 29, 2014 10:48 AM Base and Swing in Synch

By Ed Kilgore

Before leaving the subject of the SOTU Address, I’d add that some of its features that made it a mediocre overall production were almost certainly fine-tuned for particular categories of listeners. We are at a point in Obama’s presidency where the usual careful calculations about the reaction of swing voters must be harmonized with the need to restore Obama’s (and the Democratic Party’s) traditional standing with elements of his 2008-2012 “base.”

So that’s probably how you wind up with a relatively banal (in the sense that it’s been uttered a gazillion times by Democratic politicians who never seem to make it a policy priority) call for equal pay for women. It’s a sentiment most swing voters can support, and is only found objectionable by conservatives who think women leaving the home has been a social holocaust, or who consider any government tampering with the godlike powers of capitalists and the market to set wages inherently socialistic. But at the same time, it’s a message that’s reliable magic with unmarried women, a key Obama demographic, per this report from Democracy Corps after a focus group in Denver watched the speech and registered reactions via dial technology:

The President…appealed to the voters he most needed to bring back—unmarried women. This critical group—who were a quarter of the electorate in 2012 and gave two-thirds of their votes to the president—have held back from supporting the President and Democrats recently. Democrats will need their votes—and strong turnout—in 2014. The President’s rousing call for paycheck fairness was one of the highlights of the night, driving unmarried women in the [focus] group off the charts on the dial meter.

So you’ve got a line or two that’s going to produce that kind of “base” reaction, while also pleasing swing voters generally and exposing some divisions among conservatives (it’s the only time in the speech I noticed some Republicans applauding while most sat on their hands). By all means put it in the speech and jazz it up with a pop culture reference, whatever the grumpy judges of substance have to say about it.

I think there was a lot of that sort of precision going on in the speech, if that’s not giving too much credit to the ability of the White House speechwriting team to bring order out of the chaos of major speech preparation.

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

(You may use HTML tags for style)

comments powered by Disqus