Obama Needs to Offer Voters a Bold Narrative

Americans want bold plans for change, which Obama has not yet offered, a Democracy Corps analysis finds.

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The presidential campaign has reached "a tipping point" where President Obama needs to "offer a bold narrative" and far-reaching policies "if he is to win re-election and get to a substantial enough victory that enables him to govern and face the great challenges ahead," a prominent Democratic pollster says in a new analysis of the race.

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Stan Greenberg told me that the second debate Tuesday night will be crucial to the election's outcome. Obama needs to clarify "what would get done in a second term" and demonstrate his strong commitment to making it happen, Greenberg adds.

Sixty-seven percent of Americans agree with the statement, "We need to make major changes to solve America's problems," according to a survey taken for Greenberg's research group, Democracy Corps. Twenty-nine per cent disagree with that statement. Seventy per cent say too much power is held in Washington and on Wall Street, "which are unaccountable to people," and voters believe "that the solution is to break up big banks and empower communities," the Democracy Corps analysis said. Nearly 60 per cent give the economy a "negative rating."

"The first debate really did disrupt the race and presents a painful real-time test of what happens when the president tries to convince people of progress and offer a very modest vision of future change," according to the Democracy Corps analysis, sent to reporters and other interested parties Monday. "Voters are not looking for continuity but changes that help the average Joe."

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Obama has spent too much time looking backward, said Greenberg, who advised President Bill Clinton during his 1992 campaign and during his first term. Yet looking backward is what the Obama campaign is still doing in its latest TV ad, Greenberg points out. He released a transcript of that ad in which narrator Morgan Freeman says, "Every president inherits challenges. Few have faced so many. Four years later, our enemies have been brought to justice, our heroes are coming home, assembly lines are humming again. There are still challenges to meet: children to educate, a middle class to rebuild. But the last thing we should do it is turn back now."

In contrast, Republican challenger Mitt Romney's latest ad shows him talking directly into the camera and looking ahead. "Let me tell you how I'll create 12 million jobs when President Obama couldn't," Romney says. "First, my energy independence policy means more than 3 million new jobs, many of them in manufacturing. My tax reform plan to lower rates for the middle class and for small business creates 7 million more. And expanding trade, cracking down on China, and improving job training takes us to over 12 million new jobs."

The Democracy Corps analysis says, "In the first debate, Obama did not make a bold case for the bold policies he would offer in the next four years," and that is what many voters, especially independents and unmarried women, were looking for. At the same time, "Romney got the opportunity to be heard as the voice of change," the analysis says.

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  • Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com and on Facebook or Twitter.