Senior Obama adviser David Plouffe is getting widely pilloried on the right today for claiming that people won’t vote in 2012 “based on the unemployment rate.”
Plouffe made the comments to reporters at a Bloomberg breakfast earlier this week.“The average American does not view the economy through the prism of GDP or unemployment rates or even monthly jobs numbers,” Plouffe said. “People won’t vote based on the unemployment rate, they’re going to vote based on: ‘How do I feel about my own situation? Do I believe the president makes decisions based on me and my family?’”
The remarks exploded today on Twitter, and Mitt Romney pounced. “If David Plouffe were working for me, I would fire him and then he could experience firsthand the pain of unemployment,” Romney said, accusing Obama of a “cavalier attitude about the economy.”
But the White House has now supplied a full transcript of the exchange in question, which it obtained from Bloomberg. Here’s the relevant part, with the controversial parts and the question he was answering in bold:
QUESTION: Axelrod likes to say that every campaign has inherited [inaudible]. You know, an environment in which unemployment is [inaudible] percent when the president runs for re-election, what’s — what’s the Obama narrative about that?
PLOUFFE: Well, listen, I don’t -- you know, we’re a long way from 2012. We’re a long way from knowing what’s going on in the world and exactly what the economy is and who are opponent is.
I would make a general statement, though, because there is a lot of attention focused on the unemployment rate. The average American does not view the economy through the prism of GDP or unemployment rates or even monthly jobs numbers.
In fact, those terms very rarely pass their lips. So it’s a very one-dimensional view. They view the economy through their own personal prism. You see, people’s — people’s attitude towards their own personal financial situation has actually improved over time. You know, they’re still concerned about the long-term economic future of the country, but it’s things like “My sister was unemployed for six months and was living in my basement and now she has a job.”
There’s a — a “help wanted” sign. You know, the local diner was a little busier this week. Home Depot was a little busier. These are the ways people talk about the economy. They don’t talk about it in the terms of Washington.
And so their decision next year will be based upon two things, okay, how do I feel about things right now, and then, ultimately, campaigns are always much more about the future, and who do I think has got the best idea, the best vision for where to take the country?
I would submit to you that a healthy percentage of Americans, far more than a majority, believe the president has a very sound vision for where the country needs to go.
So, you know, people won’t vote based on the unemployment rate. They’re gonna vote based on, “How do I feel about my own situation? Do I believe the president makes decisions based on me and my family?”
It seems Plouffe was actually asked a question about whether and how the unemployment rate would impact the Presidential race. He replied by claiming that the number itself wouldn’t impact people’s votes. In other words, Plouffe himself didn’t initially establish the political context. Plouffe then launched into a discussion about how the anemic recovery is experienced by people on a personal level. It was in that context that Plouffe reiterated that people won’t vote based on the number alone.
You can accuse Plouffe of being wrong in claiming that people won’t vote based on the percentage of unemployed — I tend to think it may loom in people’s minds. You can argue that it was a misstep in that the quote does sound tone-deaf when reproduced without the surrounding context, and it’s understandable why people would see it as insensitive when viewed without that context.
But as Dave Weigel notes, the quote in isolation is widely being distorted in the media as a sign that Obama’s advisers have their heads in the sand about the economy. And looking at the full exchange, it’s hard to see how Plouffe was expressing indifference to the economic plight that ordinary people are enduring.