When all the House races are finally called, Democrats will have likely lost, on net, roughly 62 to 65 seats. It was a true Republican wave, and the results were worse than you would have expected, even considering the poor economic conditions and the fact that the President’s party tends to lose seats in the first midterm. In light of these huge losses, two big Democratic strategists, James Carville and Stan Greenberg, are pointing out that Obama’s messaging leading up to the election was utterly unhelpful to his party. From the Huffington Post:
“A metaphor about a car in the ditch when people are in trouble and angry at Wall Street is just out of touch with what is going on,” Greenberg said, with respect to the president’s closing argument during 2010 cycle. Pointing to the polling data he had seen in the lead up to the vote, he added: “At one point, any framework tested better than trying to make the case for success.”
This is not just Monday morning quarterbacking on the part of Greenberg. In early October, Greenberg penned a public Democracy Corps memo clearly stating that Obama’s insistence on using his “going forward” messaging was actually causing a net shift away from Democrats among voters. Despite that, the president continued reenforcing that frame right up until election day:
Because a “go forward” framework implies that Democrats and Congress have made progress those voters do not feel, the message re-enforces the Republican framework for the election – a referendum on the Democrats’ performance on the economy. In the experiment described above (where voters read the two Republican messages and the two Democratic ‘go forward, not back’ messages), votes shifted to the Republicans not only on which party can best handle the economy but also on the congressional vote. The 5 percent who shifted to the Democrats was exceeded by the 7 percent of voters who moved to the Republicans – a net negative 2-point worsening of the race.
With an economy in bad shape and the top legislative achievement of the Democratic Congress (health care reform) very unpopular, the 2010 midterms were going to be very tough for Democrats anyway. In that environment, having your president repeat what was proven to be not just an ineffective but a damaging message could have changed the outcome for the worse in possibly dozens of very close races.
This kind of thing breeds serious bad blood between a president and his party in Congress. Obama should think about doing some serious bridge-building.