Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Last night, NYU in Paris hosted a wide-ranging debate about the communications and messaging of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney during this 2012 campaign.

Here is a brief recap of a few of the points I raised:

-Where once Obama was characterized by his opponents as "European," "not like us," or even "unAmerican," he has turned that discourse against his Republican rival - in the context of having contributed to outsourcing jobs, opposing the auto bailout (argument made notably in Ohio), and being too rich to identify with the average American's primary preoccupations (argument that his policies favor the elite class because Romney doesn't know anything else).

-The president is also using the metaphor of color to characterize the competition, which not only draws a racial distinction in the minds of some voters, but uses an evocative image to cast Barack Obama as the politician for America's future and Romney as a proponent of a by-gone era with its dated narrative and divisions. For example, Obama has accused Romney of being the candidate of "black and white" whereas the president is the "technicolor candidate."

-The 2012 campaign has been largely driven by a negative tone compared to 2008, the unifying and grandiose themes replaced by a competition which has been framed as a choice between visions for social, cultural, and economic justice in America.

-Hurricane Sandy could pose a problem in the communications operations in this last week. This could be disproportionately difficult for Romney. Without being insensitive about the real suffering and damage caused by the storm, it offers President Obama the occasion to once again assert the full authority of his office (free television airtime, reminding voters that he has immediate and privileged access to the most important lawmakers to coordinate the response). Power outages could negatively affect voters' abilities to view ads aired in these next days, the storm's path changes the candidates' stump schedules, and damages could prove an obstacle to voters wanting to turn out on Election Day.