Doesn't Obama Care About Swing Voters?

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A new memo from Third Way is worth reading. The authors look at a group of voters they call "swing independents": self-declared independents who have neither strongly favorable or unfavorable views of Obama and Romney. These people are 38% of all independents according to Third Way's poll, and 15% of the electorate as a whole. This crucial segment prefers Obama to Romney, 44% to 38%. The bad news for the president is that they are closer to Romney ideologically. The argument about fairness around which Obama seems to be organizing his campaign doesn't play well.

Swing Independents clearly preferred an economic opportunity frame when it was pitted against other messages, including those about fairness. For example, when asked which candidate they'd be more likely to support, 80% chose a candidate "focusing on economic growth and opportunity" while only 15% picked one "focusing on income inequality." Even when the question was asked in a way that made clear the second candidate wanted to reduce income inequality specifically "to help the middle class," 76% chose opportunity...

When asked about the best way to address income inequality, nearly three-fourths of Swing Independents said "to expand opportunities for the middle class," while only 22% chose "to ensure the rich are paying their fair share." And when offered the fairness argument versus a conservative message on the best way to reduce income inequality, Swing Independents split between lowering taxes on job creators (44%) or making the rich pay their fair share (44%).

Swing voters like Obama--and I'm sure they agree with him that the Republican party has lurched to the right. So I'll ask a question I've asked before: Why can't Obama and his advisers see this as an opportunity to seize the center? The middle has opened up, and the Democrats have a charismatic well-liked politician who could win those votes for their side. Yet he's choosing to press the Old Democrat themes of fairness and equality, and needlessly presenting swing voters with a dilemma. I'm sure I'm too simple-minded, but the logic of the strategy escapes me.

Josh Kraushaar is puzzled too. As he says, an us-against-them message won't work in center-right country. This doesn't mean Obama is bound to lose in November. It just means he's making things harder for himself than they needed to be.

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Clive Crook is a senior editor of The Atlantic and a columnist for Bloomberg View. He was the Washington columnist for the Financial Times, and before that worked at The Economist for more than 20 years, including 11 years as deputy editor. Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics. More

Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics.

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