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Political Success for the next 2 years depends on who controls the message

They say, “the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.” For the past two years, that hand belonged to Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (CA) who wielded her power to control the Congressional agenda.  Now, with the changing of the guard, an interesting new interplay will likely be afoot between the Executive and Legislative branches of the federal government.  Even as the pendulum swings, there is little doubt, however, that the big winner over the next two years and during the 2012 elections will be the party that controls the message.

The President certainly has momentum going into the New Year.  Several prognosticators have reveled in President Obama’s ability to position himself as the ‘get-it-done’ politician in Washington, separating himself from the political fray and navigating through a checklist of highly contentious legislative items:  Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal; approval of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START); a middle class tax cuts compromise positioned to stimulate the economy; and the Food Safety bill among others.

Promptly after its last landmark victory of the lame duck session, the White House, the Democratic National Committee and Congress released a barrage of press releases and targeted emails to their entire database of supporters, media and stakeholders sharing the news.  There was even a videoreleased highlighting the past two years.

Much has been said recently over these latest last minute triumphs.  But the administration and Congress have been quite successful during Obama’s tenure in passing a host of landmark bills and resolutions. This administration has accomplished a lot, some say more than other previous administrations within the same time period.  A DNC email shared details about this revelation:

In a Bloomberg article today, Alan Brinkley, an historian at Columbia University, said the last two years has likely been “the most productive session of Congress since at least the ‘60s” while in a Rolling Stone article earlier this year, Norman Ornstein, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, noted that “If you’re looking at the first-two-year legislative record you really don’t have any rivals since Lyndon Johnson — and that includes Ronald Reagan.”  Presidential Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin said of President Obama’s accomplishments in his first two years in the same article “When you look at what will last in history, Obama has more notches on the presidential belt.”

Despite sweeping legislative victories, however, many were unaware of just how much has been accomplished under Obama’s watch – one need only reflect on midterm results to realize that.

There are certainly any number of reasons for the mismatch between accomplishments and public perception, but overall, looking back at the last two years, there seems to be an absence of a calculated strategy to relay these victories to the people who matter the most:  the American public.

Perhaps people were too concerned with their own personal troubles to really pay attention to what Washington was doing.   As such, the GOP was able to capitalize on the growing frustration over the absence of jobs and loss of homes following the mortgage crisis and real estate bust.  The question going forward, then, is whether they will be able to keep the country’s attention over the next two years.

To win the hearts and minds of would-be voters in 2012, both parties need to incorporate a multi-faceted public relations campaign into their strategy.  These days, Americans collect their news and information from a variety of sources and many of them are NOT online.

One-in-five American adults (21%) do not use the internet, according to an August 2010 Pew Internet & American Life Project report.  In 2009, 65% of whites and 46% of African Americans were broadband users (a 19-point gap).   In 2010, 67% of whites and 56% of African Americans are broadband users (an 11-point gap).  Further, a May 2010 Pew Research center report revealed that 78 percent of those polled said they get news from a local TV station.

So, if the President is hoping to draw out those 5 million first time Black voters who came out in droves to elect him in 2008, the White House and Democrats would need to mix up their outreach efforts. Forty-six percent of those surveyed by Pew said they get news from four to six media platforms on a typical day, including national TV, local TV, the Internet, local newspapers, radio, and national newspapers.

Reaching voters from all demographics and not just those who are politically active, just as the Tea Party faction, will likely require a well crafted public affairs campaign to make sure the right story gets out there.  You know, the kind that has Americans not really hating BP for what it did to the Gulf region. Whoever orchestrated that plan deserves some praise.

In the meantime, the Republicans have a tough job ahead of them putting in place some programs and making effective budget cuts to stimulate the economy, get more jobs created, and ease credit and opportunities for small businesses and the average citizen.  In the end, it may be a battle between who controls the message and can best relay what they have done and are doing for the American people. With the President getting so many wins during the last few weeks, he is up and has the momentum.

It’s going to be interesting seeing how it all plays out for the next few years, indeed

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One comment

  • Ms. Ghatt raises a good point about an often overlooked metric: not everyone is on the Internet. When you consider this metric in light of the critique of the pending merger of Comcast and NBC Universal, public impact on policy cannot be measured solely by who is receiving information via one medium. The Internet may be a good source for determining the level of citizen opinion on policy, but may not be the best source for measuring the quality of information citizens are receiving.

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