What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Patchwork Nation: Obama’s Differing Messages for Varied Views on Recession

In the age of niche marketing there isn’t much use for a standard stump speech, just ask President Obama.

Over the past few months he has been roaming the country talking to crowds on what the White House calls a Main Street tour. He’s been to Savannah, Ga., and Macon, Mo. On Thursday, he was in Buffalo, N.Y. Next week he’ll go to Youngstown, Ohio.

But even as the news media and politicians sometimes like to pretend Main Street is a single place, the conversations at those assorted cafés, bars and yard sales are often very different – as Patchwork Nation often notes. And for a president, what voters want to hear in a Boom Town locale like Savannah might be very different than what they want to hear in an Evangelical Epicenter like Macon.

And so with those thoughts in mind we took two of the President’s more recent “Main Street” stops and created word clouds of his speeches. They show there may be a few divides in the electorate about what this coming election will be “about.”

Did I Mention Small Business?

Obama's Buffalo speech as visualized by Wordle

In Buffalo, Obama addressed a crowd at Industrial Support Inc., a small contractor firm that does everything from industrial sewing to circuit board assembly.

Two words stood out in the speech – “small” and “business” – in fact the phrase “small business” appeared some 25 times. That’s not exactly a shock. That was the focus of the speech.

It’s worth noting, however, a few words that didn’t appear in the speech. Variations of the word “manufacturing” only appeared twice – even in a factory that specializes manufacturing – and “union,” at least in the context of labor unions, didn’t turn up once.

The absence of those words is something of a surprise, especially when the speech is being given in the heart of an aging Industrial Metropolis like Buffalo. And it may suggest a few things about the Obama team.

It may be that the administration sees the economic changes of the past few years as remaking the American economy in a fundamental way and talking about bringing manufacturing back is not a wise move. It also may be an effort to speak more directly to the wealthier, more-educated voters in that make up a large chunk of those Industrial Metros.

This was Obama the job-maker and business defender.

Time for Reform

Obama's Quincy speech

Just a few weeks ago on the same tour, Obama the reformer was on display in Quincy, Ill. “Reform” appeared in that speech 16 times (it appeared only once in Buffalo). And the Quincy speech had a much more populist streak. Wall Street’s actions in the first half of the last decade were likened to “a big casino.”

Quincy, in the Service Worker Center county of Adams, is a place where the idea of reform might resonate and that speech, focusing on financial reform. The unemployment rate in the county hovers above the national average and the median household income is only about $36,000.

In the recession, Service Worker Centers like Adams County have been hit harder than other places. The small-town economies rise and fall on the health of the larger economy – they feel pain before other types of places and they recover later.

There’s nothing intrinsically dissonant about the tones of the two speeches, but they reveal the different attitudes around a nation that has suffered through a long recession heading into an election year.

In Industrial Metros like Buffalo, some at the top end of the economic ladder have already begun to feel the recovery. Like the wealthier residents of Monied ‘Burbs, they are seeing their stock portfolios recover. For many those people the 2010 election is probably going to be less about “bringing change to Washington” that it’s going to be about getting the private sector back on the path to robust growth, if possible.

In the Service Worker Centers, the recovery probably still sounds more like a rumor than anything else. The voters there are going probably going to be more ready for candidates promising reform and change.

Those may be the dual story lines evolving in May – voters wanting to fire up the economy versus voters wanting to reform how it works. There’s room for crossover between those things, of course, but there is also plenty of room for disagreement for those trying to win votes.

The Latest