To appeal to swing voters, Obama needs some fiscal toughness

by Ryan Streeter on September 5, 2012. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Democratic pollsters Pat Caddell and Doug Schoen write in today’s Wall Street Journal:

What voters are looking for—and particularly what swing voters, independents, and disillusioned Obama voters are looking for—is a new direction for America based on fiscal discipline, a balanced budget, and economic growth and leadership.

More than anyone else in this race, Paul Ryan has spoken of the need for fiscal discipline and economic growth—two themes that have been largely absent from the Obama-Biden campaign—which explains a large part of the Ryan-inspired Romney bump.

For his part, President Obama needs to change direction—immediately and decisively. His campaign strategy has been to divide the country on the basis of class, demonize the wealthy, call for higher taxes and unceasingly attack Mr. Romney. Yet poll after poll has shown that while voters embrace the idea of higher taxes on the rich, it does not translate into votes.

This strikes me as very good advice for Obama. And it also strikes me as completely at odds with how the Democrats have set up their convention. By standard measures of theatrics, the convention got off to a very good start last night. But by the measure of content, it was a carefully manipulated effort to avoid these very issues that Caddell and Schoen write about. The party’s hard tilt to the left expressed in its platform changes on God, gay marriage, and Israel also cut against what the voters Obama needs right now really want.

Aside from the politics of the convention, Americans in general associate their personal aspirations with political sobriety these days. Soaring rhetoric, personality-driven leadership – we will always be susceptible to these things, but on balance, voters are showing a strong tilt toward politicians who speak to them like adults, who don’t avoid the tough issues, and who show they understand that government – or at least the politicians in charge – are part of the reason our economy is struggling.