Three years ago US President Barack Obama swept into office on a massive wave of popular support. He was a pop culture phenomenon; his image adored t-shirts and posters and cheers of “Hope”, “Change” and “Yes we can” could be heard state-wide.
So what changed? In just over three years he’s onto his fourth Chief of Staff – an indicator of internal strife, many politicians within his own party are distancing themselves from him on the campaign trail, Hollywood is increasingly turning its back on him and many of Obama’s supporters have moved on to rather support the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement.
So what is behind the decline in Obama’s support?
One of the key tenants of ‘Market Orientated’ political campaigning is ‘achievability’. In design and adjusting the campaign of a political candidate it is crucial to ensure that the promises that are made during an election can be delivered when in government.
Modern voters demand more instant and evident delivery and often require candidate’s promises to be costed and realistic. This led to the use of pledge cards by politicians like Tony Blair in the UK and Helen Clark in New Zealand. As Chris Rudd points out Clark was at pains to set out a modest and achievable programme which made it clear what to expect over her three year term.
An example of a Tony Blair pledge card
Early on Tony Blair, like Obama, fell into the trap of providing the electorate with a ambitious if vague vision. While this made him popular in the immediate, he quickly learnt that however pleasant popularity is, “all things to all people” never lasts for long.
Lees-Marshment has written that an effective President needs to balance promises to give voters what they want with considerations of deliverability. If Obama promised too little, voters would have not seen any benefit in voting for him. Instead he focused on the broad theme of ‘change’. He talked about ‘change we can believe in.’ He also talked about his ability, and the ability of Americans to make a change. This platform was high on rhetoric but lacked in specifics and as such he was unable to successfully manage expectations when in office.
‘Hope’ and ‘Change’ are intangible concepts. Obama’s goal of changing Washington politics could mean many things to many people and as such it was hard for him to establish what success and delivery looked like.
In addition, the way that the Obama campaign was constructed meant that it his supporters had the ability to define and communicate Obama’s message and brand without much direction or restriction from campaign HQ.
This meant that even if Obama had a concrete idea regarding what he wanted to accomplish and when, this didn’t necessarily translate directly into what was communicated by his zealous supporters (in many ways mirroring the issues that Ron Paul faces).
While Obama has gone some way in delivering healthcare reform, repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’, and looking into climate change and Wall Street reform, he has failed in respect to the closing of Guantanamo, ending the use of torture, and bringing forth an age of bi-partisan cooperation.
However it is not all doom and gloom for Obama. This is due to the fact that the economic situation is improving and the American public are far more disproving of Congress and the Republicans than they are of the Administration.
In looking ahead; if a moderate like Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman was nominated by the Republicans, I could predict a tight race. However, those candidates on the far right (Gingrich, Perry and Santorum) seem to be making a concerted effort to move as far away from the mainstream as possible and would, in my opinion, be humiliated by a re-energised Barack Obama.