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Romney's slogan isn't working

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As you might have heard, Romney's latest campaign slogan is 'Obama isn't working'. This appears to be both a reference to the famous 'Labour isn't Working' slogan created by the brothers Saatchi for the 1979 Conservative campaign in the UK, and a none-too-subtle dog whistle to remind voters of a common racist stereotype (i.e., the black man doesn't work).

The Saatchi slogan was also a double entendre. It pointed to the fact that UK unemployment had reached over a million under Labour, and the country had been crippled by strikes for months, the so-called 'winter of discontent'. It was a powerful slogan because it reminded voters of the two facts that were central to the Tory campaign.

While the Romney campaign is also attempting a double entendre, neither meaning is likely to resonate outside the Conservative base. Most voters remember that the recession started under the Bush administration (that didn't stop Romney from trying to blame President Obama for a factor that was closed under Bush). Claiming that Obama has not done enough to clean up the mess made by the last Republican President does not have quite the same punch as pointing to the collapse of British manufacturing under Labour.

There is also the fact that voters don't (at least not yet) seem to think Romney has any better economic expertise than Obama. A recent MSNBC poll found that there was essentially no difference between voters assessment of Romney and Obama on the economy. The Romney slogan might even backfire if people consider the Thatcher government as precedent: 18 months after the 1979 election, UK unemployment hit three million as the country's manufacturing base was destroyed and Britain became a net importer of manufactured goods for the first time since the industrial revolution.

The dog whistle aspect of the slogan might also backfire. Does it really make sense for a man who left business in 1999 and hasn't had a real job since 2007, because he's so rich he doesn't need to work, to accuse the President of being lazy?

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