The president’s victory was a triumph of vision, not of demographics. He won because he articulated a set of values that define an America that the majority of us wish to live in: A nation that makes the investments we need to strengthen and grow the middle class. A nation with a fair tax system, and affordable and excellent education for all its citizens. A nation that believes that we’re most prosperous when we recognize that we are all in it together.
Two key data points illustrate why Americans were always far more open to President Obama’s message and accomplishments than commentators assumed. By a three to one margin (74 percent to 23 percent), voters said that what the country faced since 2008 was an “extraordinary crisis more severe than we’ve seen in decades” as opposed to “a typical recession that the country has every several years.” At the same time, a clear majority, 57 percent, believed that the problems we faced after the crisis were “too severe for anyone to fix in a single term,” while only 4 in 10 voters believed another president would have been able to do more than Mr. Obama to get the economy moving in the past four years.
President Obama offered Americans a clear, forward-looking vision that focused on creating a stronger, more secure future for average Americans and their children, built on investments we need as a nation and a balanced approach to fiscal issues such as taxes and deficit reduction. Spending cuts alone could not address voter concerns — 89 percent of those surveyed agreed that “for my children to have the economic opportunities I’ve had, we need to make real investments in education, creating world-class schools and making college more affordable.” Mitt Romney’s negative drumbeat about the president’s record and his insistence that our economic agenda was failing were essentially tone-deaf, missing the mark with voters to such an extent that they undermined the central premise of his candidacy — his economic expertise. Mr. Romney was describing a reality that was disconnected from voters’ lives and from the context within which they viewed the economy.
The president’s forward-looking approach resonated strongly with American voters, who by a margin of 77 percent to 17 percent said that which candidate would make their life better four years from now was more important to their vote than whether they were better off four years ago. And voters simply didn’t believe that Mr. Romney was on their side. When asked about a series of issues that might concern them about each candidate, voters’ top worry about Mr. Romney was “he won’t do enough to restore security for working- and middle-class families,” closely followed by “he won’t do enough to ensure that Wall Street and big corporations have to play by the same rules as everyone else.” In fact, when voters heard him talk about “job creators,” 52 percent of voters thought he was talking about big corporations while only 34 percent thought he was referring to the small businesses that voters believe are the engines of economic growth and innovation. And fully 94 percent of voters say that they are “more likely to support companies that are doing their part to help the community or people in need.”
Benenson was President Obama’s chief pollster during the 2008 and 2012 campaigns.