Aug. 21, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Barack Obama the Underdog Against ‘Change’ Slogan

Sara D. Davis/Getty Images
After recent economic slides, President Barack Obama appears to be a narrow underdog for re-election, and the burden is on the president to change the way voters evaluate candidates come November, Stuart Rothenberg writes.

But when voters show up at the polls in November they will not see Bush’s name on the ballot, and they will not be asked who is responsible for getting the economy into a ditch. Instead, they will be voting on whether Obama has started to turn things around and whether he is the man to finish the job over the next four years.

While most polls don’t yet show the president trailing in his bid for a second term, polling is often a lagging indicator. National and swing state survey data demonstrate a slow but steady erosion in Obama’s numbers, including in hypothetical ballot tests, and that deterioration is likely to continue if more bad news comes along.

For the White House, the next round of unemployment and new job numbers scheduled for release on July 6 is crucial for the Obama campaign’s effort to change the narrative. More bad numbers will put the president in an even deeper hole.

The president’s high favorable rating shows that swing voters are sympathetic to him, but as bad news appears, those key voters are likely to desert Obama in the presidential race. More bad news, after all, would translate into more dissatisfaction and pessimism.

It’s not that voters are so enamored of Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Instead, it’s that over time swing voters are likely to be more inclined to favor change if the news on the jobs front is poor and if voters conclude that the president simply has not succeeded.

Obama was correct when he told donors at a recent event that the GOP’s strategy was to blame him. “It’s very easy to put on a bumper sticker. ‘It’s Obama’s Fault,’” he said to chuckles from the sympathetic audience.

But there is nothing funny or unusual about it. Obama did the same thing in 2008, as did Bill Clinton in 1992 and Ronald Reagan in 1980.

When voters are unhappy and want change, challengers simply say, “It’s time for change.” And that message works unless there are other equally effective messages that the incumbent can deliver.

Indeed, the fact that the slogan — whether “It’s Obama’s Fault” or simply “Vote Change, Vote Romney” — fits on a bumper sticker is only a plus for the GOP. It doesn’t mean that the bumper sticker is wrong or that the voters will reject it.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

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