KAMPANJ | Tidskriften Time har utsett president Barack Obama till ”Person of the Year” 2012.
I huvudartikeln beskriver Michael Scherer varför Obamakampanjen bestämde sig för att låta förtroendet för presidenten bli huvudtemat i valrörelsen.
To understand how he kept his job, the best place to start is where he did. In early 2011, David Simas, a former registrar of deeds in Taunton, Mass., who had become a senior White House aide, switched on what might be called one of the largest listening posts in U.S. history. For months on end, two or three nights a week, Simas and his team secretly gathered voters in rented rooms across the swing states, eight at a time, the men separated from the women. The Obamans poked at their guinea pigs’ animal spirits, asked for confessions and played word-association games. (Among swing voters, Democrat often elicited Barack Obama, and Republican would yield words like old and backward.) Live feeds of the focus groups were shown on computer screens at campaign headquarters in Chicago. The first discovery Simas made held the keys to the kingdom. “Here is the best thing,” he said of Obama when he went back to home base. “People trust him.”
In an age of lost authority, Obama had managed to maintain his. In group after group, the voters told the researchers they believed the President was honest, lived an admirable personal life and was trying to do the right thing. “Here’s what I heard for 18 months,” Simas says. “‘I trust his values. I think he walked into the worst situation of any President in 50 years. And you know what? I am disappointed that things haven’t turned around.’ But there was always that feeling of ‘I am willing to give this guy a second shot.’”
In different rooms, behind different one-way mirrors, Republicans made the same discovery. “There was almost nothing that would stick to this guy, because they just liked him personally,” Katie Packer Gage, Romney’s deputy campaign manager, said after the election. Most of those who had voted for Obama in 2008 were still proud of that vote and did not see the President as partisan or ideological. When Republicans channeled their party’s many furies, attacking Obama as an extremist, it backfired among swing-state voters. “The kind of traditional negative campaign that the Obama campaign did was not available to our side,” explained Steven Law, who oversaw more than $100 million in anti-Obama advertising for American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS.
So even before the first ad ran, Obama had an edge and a way of framing the race. While Romney tried to focus on Obama’s weak economic record, Obama made his race about confidence. The most important poll question in Chicago was, Which candidate is looking out for voters like you? “What we saw these undecided voters doing for literally a year,” Simas says, “looking at two very different people outside fundamental message, tactics and strategy, is, they were making a very trust-based assessment between Obama and Romney.”
This became the through line of the brutal and at times unfair Obama attacks on Romney — the cracks about car elevators, the specious mention of his potentially felonious Securities and Exchange Commission filings, the false claim that he supported an abortion ban without a rape exception, the endless harping on a Swiss bank account once held in his wife’s name. It all spoke to a central message built around trust: One man, despite his failures, had voters like you in mind. The other man, by contrast, knew how to make a lot of money for people you will never meet.
Of course, Romney turned out to be Obama’s biggest ally in that narrative. But back at campaign headquarters, Simas slapped a poster on his office wall that told an even bigger story. It had three lines: two showing the rise of per capita GDP and productivity in the U.S. since 1992 and one flat line showing household income. He opened all his presentations with the same chart. “Above it was just a phrase from a focus group — ‘I’m working harder and falling behind,’” Simas says. “That was the North Star. Everything we did and everything we said was derivative of that sentiment.” The words of the faceless focus-group participant passed from the rented room to the computer screens in Chicago and eventually right into the President’s stump speech. “As long as there are families who are working harder and harder but falling further behind,” Obama told crowds, “our work is not yet done.”
Bild: Tidskriftsomslagets foto är taget av Nadav Kander. Numret är Time den 31 december 2012 – 7 januari 2013.