Democrats Lost Because of Unemployment, Not Spending

Voters were screaming "jobs, jobs, jobs" and Dems responded by saying "healthcare, healthcare.”

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Tuesday's electoral disaster was not surprising since the best message that Democrats could come up with for the midterms was “voting for us is better than a sharp stick in the eye." Not surprisingly, voters did not flock to our banner. Believe me, I know. As a Democratic strategist and pollster, my specialty is message development and we should have and could have done a lot better.

[See photos from the campaign trail.]

Democrats can and will make a lot of excuses for the loss on Tuesday but we will recover faster if we face up to reality and deal with it.

Pundits criticize Democrats as liberals and big spenders but the only thing that really mattered Tuesday was an unemployment rate at 9.6 percent with an effective unemployment rate double that. "It’s the economy stupid" is the biggest cliché in American politics but it’s truer now than it was in 1992 when Bill Clinton rode that message to the White House. The exit polls show that the economy was by far the dominant issue and a third of the voters said that someone in their household had lost a job in the last two years. Voters kicked our butts not because we were too liberal but they did punish Democrats because we didn't create the new jobs that we promised Americans in 2008.

Democrats didn't have a communication problem; they have a listening problem. All through 2010, voters were screaming "jobs, jobs, jobs" and we responded by saying "healthcare, healthcare, healthcare." With some cause. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that it’s hard to message 9.6 percent unemployment. But the president could have put everything else on the back burner while he focused on the economy like a laser beam and proposed a stimulus package in early 2009 that had been large enough to jump-start a $14 billion GNP. One of the key findings from the exit polls was very few voters worried about the deficit while just about everybody cared about the economy.

Occam's Razor states the best explanation for an event is usually the simplest one. We will hear a lot of excuses and many explanations for the Democratic defeats but only one, jobs, matters.

  • Check out our editorial cartoons on the economy.
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  • See a slide show of 10 keys to an Obama comeback.