Debate Club

Obama Appealed to Voters on Personality, Not Policy


The Democratic Convention was more successful than the Republican Convention. The speakers provided rousing rhetoric infused with positive energy, which helped 44 recapture some of his lost magic. They otherwise would give President Barack Obama a solid post-convention bounce, but release of the August jobs report coming 12 hours after the confetti filled the arena, it won't materialize.

I disagree with conventional wisdom that Obama's speech was only satisfactory. He brought a sense of humor, with his "take two tax cuts and call me in the morning" joke, and gravitas to the arena. This will resonate with a lot of undecided voters who vote on personality not policy.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]

However, voters continue have little confidence in the president's promise to deliver. And this is not necessarily because of a high unemployment and recession, but because of his damaged credibility. The president sets soaring expectations, but doesn't meet them. His broken promises, failed veto threats, and reversals of course mollify Republicans but don't agitate change. Voters will remember this on November 6.

The president's faltered somewhat because he didn't comprehensively outline the specifics of his plans, and used a lot of "Dog Whistle Politics," or code words to appeal to special interest, not the silent majority. Voters have said over and over that they want to know exactly what he plans to do to create jobs and reduce the deficit. They got some of that, but not enough to make a difference.

The timing of today's August jobs report doesn't work in Obama's favor. It's hard for voters to buy his promise that "he'll create millions of new jobs for small business and manufacturing" when the data speaks otherwise. The GOP will lob some 50-megaton attack ads over the next few days, making it hard for 44 to win the love of swing state voters. He has a long way to go selling four more years.

[See Photos as Obama Accepts Democratic Nomination.]

Neither convention will change the fact that this election is going to be a nail-biter. Mitt Romney has his own challenges. His stark position reversals on healthcare and social issues during his tenure as Massachusetts governor make many question the veracity of his rhetoric. Not to mention, Tampa would have been just as exciting had President George W. Bush spoke. Romney's fear of being linked to the Bush years is irrational. Republicans love W., and they would have been amped up by his ability to connect to the Everyman. Team Romney forgot the Halo Effect. It minimizes bad memories of a former president's tenure. It worked in Clinton's favor; he had just as many complaints against during his eight years as Bush and Obama.

The president's speech was solid, but it's not a game-changer, and it should've been. If O wants to avoid a photo finish, he's going to have to come out punching during the debates. Otherwise, the statistical ties will plague him right up until the polls close on the West Coast.

Jamie Chandler

About Jamie Chandler Political Scientist at Hunter College

Obama, Barack
Romney, Mitt
Democratic National Convention

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