A new Democracy Corps research report – based on focus groups of independent voters and prepared by consultant James Carville, pollster and analyst Stan Greenberg, and their associate Erica Seifert – starkly warns that the Obama campaign’s economic message must be revised and strengthened, or else. To claim that the economy is improving when middle-class voters feel intense pressure on jobs, wages, and income only alienates them. But the same report noted that the same voters who feel dispirited and disappointed see no real alternative in Republican Mitt Romney, whose attitudes and policies they strongly distrust.
From lengthy interviews in late May with groups of non-college educated men and women in Columbus, OH, and college-educated men and women in Bala Cynwyd, PA – many of them Obama supporters in 2008 – the Democracy Corps analysts found that their party “will face an impossible headwind in November if we do not move to a new narrative, one that contextualizes the recovery but, more importantly, focuses on what we will do to make a better future for the middle class…”
Frustration and growing pessimism over the Obama administration’s economic performance are influencing voters whose families are struggling. Yet the president remains competitive despite weak employment and stagnant incomes because those same voters “do not trust” Romney, not only because of his personal wealth and elitist demeanor, but because they reject the Republican budget and tax policies that he has endorsed. Unfortunately for Obama, that negative sense of his opponent has not translated into any great enthusiasm for his reelection among these groups, described by the consultants as “independents or weak partisans and ticket-splitters – swing independent voters,” even divided between 2008 Obama and McCain voters.
Much of the report describes, in their own words, the unprecedented difficulties confronted by working families, retirees, recent college graduates, and older employees as the country slowly and haltingly recovers from recession. Many rely on food stamps or Medicare, or have relatives and friends who do. Nearly all live in diminished circumstances, with little leisure, increasingly costly necessities, and fear that the future looks no brighter than the dismal present. Political ads that suggests, like some Obama advertising, that the president has created millions of jobs already, tend to anger them.
Still, the Democracy Corps analysis indicates that those who voted for the President four years ago remain open to supporting him again – if only because they regard him as less threatening than his opponent. What was most noticeable, amid a surge of negative advertising from campaigns and SuperPACs, is the revulsion these voters feel toward Romney, especially in Ohio, where he is blamed for moving jobs out of state when he ran Bain Capital.
In the focus groups, voters readily identified the Republican as an “out of touch…Wall Street man” who wants to keep taxes low on multimillionaires like himself – while sending his own money to Switzerland and the Cayman Islands. They resent the Ryan budget, with its assault on Medicare, Social Security, and food stamps. And they reject the Republican assaults on public workers such as firefighters, police officers, and teachers.
What these voters want to hear from the Obama campaign, according to Carville, Greenberg, and Seifert, is not happy talk about the economy that they don’t believe. The message most likely to appeal to them is quite simple and straightforwardly Democratic: Raise taxes on the very wealthy, restoring the higher rates of the Clinton era – and then spend more on education, infrastructure, research, and health care to create jobs, growth, and income.