WASHINGTON -- After months of warning President Barack Obama that his message on economic success could be off-putting to voters, Democratic strategists James Carville and Stanley Greenberg reported Friday that his economy ads are working better than they had expected.
Carville and Greenberg, who run the public opinion polling and strategic advice group Democracy Corps, have long expressed concern that Obama may seem out of touch by emphasizing the gains his administration has made on the economy.
"I'm worried that when the White House or the campaign talks about the progress that’s being made, people take that as a signal that they think that things are fine and people don’t feel they ought to believe that," Carville said on ABC's "Good Morning America" in June.
Their advice was that Obama should focus his economic message on the future. Since then, the president has done both. Carville and Greenberg wrote Friday that talking about current and future policies seemed to be showing success.
"Our fear was that the progress message would sound out of touch and fail to give those voters who are on the edge financially hope that life would be better in a second term, particularly when Mitt Romney was on the air with his plans to create 12 million jobs," Carville and Greenberg wrote in a memo. "Fortunately, the survey confirms the utility of both the progress/don’t go back and future policy messages."
Democracy Corps conducted web surveys this week to test the effectiveness of two Obama ads. One compared an Obama campaign ad featuring actor Morgan Freeman talking about the president's economic achievements with an ad from GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. The other compared an ad on Obama's plans for the future with an ad on Romney's plans.
Carville and Greenberg found both Obama ads were viewed more favorably than Romney's by those who took the survey. The ad featuring Freeman -- which was of particular concern to the advisers because of its message on gains in the economy -- also tested well, as they wrote, "allaying fears that the campaign had made a premature turn to underscore economic gains on the economy that have emerged in the last month."
Still, they wrote that neither strategy on talking about the economy seemed to work equally across the board. Swing voters, seniors and white non-college-educated voters responded well to the ad on the progress made by Obama, while minorities and self-identified Democrats were more drawn to the ad on his plans for the future.
Carville and Greenberg spoke in May 2010 about the political challenges of dealing with the economy, advising the White House to focus on fiscal responsibility and job growth.
"The hardest thing to do in all of political communications is how do you deal with a bad but somewhat improving economy," Carville said. "And the skill, or the way to thread the needle in saying things are getting better when people don't feel like they are getting better. ... We fought with it and didn't do that great a job in the early years of the Clinton administration. It is not like someone has the holy grail of how to do this."
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