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Sucking Up to Voters: A Guide for Presidential Candidates

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The 2012 presidential election promises to be one of the closest ever – one of those rare cases where every vote really does count. That's why Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are doing all they can pump up their go-to supporters while at the same time trying to peel off some of the other guy's folks. (And why the GOP is trying to suppress the Democratic vote.) It's not that Obama expects to win the white working class, or Romney to walk away with Latinos; but both men think they can chip away at the other's lead  – which, in battleground states, might be all it takes to tip the balance.

All of which explains why, in this campaign, we're seeing even more than the usual amount of pandering to the various "votes" – from women to young people to environmentalists and seniors – featuring selective amnesia about past positions (see: Romney on immigration; Obama on gay marriage), vague hints about goodies to come (see: Romney on tax cuts for the wealthy; Obama on immigration reform), and many a naked appeal to group self-interest.

But it can be hard for candidates to keep straight what they should – and shouldn't – tell all these people. So we've put together a handy guide to help campaigns get the biggest payoff from their pandering. Click through to learn the art of the political suck-up, 2012-style.

– Julian Brookes


AP Photo/Mel Evans



• say Republicans are waging a "war on women" and Romney's stuck in the fifties
• mention how you personally called to console Sandra Fluke after Rush Limbaugh called her a "slut"
• note that one of your first acts as president was to sign equal-pay legislation
• talk about how good Obamacare is for women, not least because it covers birth control
"throw the Mormon Church" at Romney vis à vis women (it'll backfire)
• call female factory workers "sweetie"
• run a White House where women feel "excluded and ignored"
• take your lead among women for granted


• claim the idea of a Republican "war on women" is bogus
• say you and the GOP are "extraordinarily pro-women"
• unleash zingers like: "The real war on women is being waged by the president’s failed economic policies."

• sound so jazzed about "getting rid of" Planned Parenthood
• mention your support for the Blunt Amendment allowing employers to drop birth control from health insurance plans
• don't say your wife Ann "reports to me regularly" about women's concerns, as if the ladies lived on another planet


Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Young People


• talk about how you’ve pushed to stop the student loan rates from doubling in July and pumped up scholarships and financial aid
• remind that thanks to Obamacare millions of young people got covered by their parents’ insurance plans
• show off your new position on same-sex marriage
• point out that you ended the war in Iraq and have pledged to wind things down in Afghanistan

• dwell on how bad the economy is for recent college grads
• expect "hope" and "change" to fly this time
• wave around your "kill list"


• pound on how bad the economy is, especially for young people, and how it's all Obama's fault
• remind young people what high hopes they had for Obama and how disappointed they are now
• keep on talking about student loan relief
• campaign with your youthful, athletic, good-looking sons

• try too hard to "relate" – as in: "Who let the dogs out?"
• focus on social issues, where young people lean liberal
• expect to win young voters; just try to chip away at Obama's lead

african americans

Mario Tama/Getty Images

African Americans


• talk up health care reform (popular with black voters)
• emphasize what a huge deal it is that you're the first black president
blame congressional Republicans for the lousy economy (black unemployment is double the national rate)
• say things like: "I refuse to pay for another millionaire’s tax cut by kicking children off of Head Start programs, asking students to pay more for college, or eliminating health insurance for millions of poor and elderly and disabled Americans on Medicaid."

• go on too much about gay marriage
• get in a fight with Cornel West and/or Tavis Smiley
• take anything for granted; get out the vote

• fight to cut into Obama's lead
blame Obama for the bad economy
• remember: white suburban voters like to think of themselves as tolerant
• emphasize plans to improve education

• come off as uninterested in the concerns of African Americans


Justin Sullivan/Getty Images



• note that you repealed DADT, stopped enforcing DOMA and called for its repeal, and – belatedly – endorsed same-sex marriage
• mention that your Pentagon celebrated Pride month this year for the first time ever
• point out that your admin was the first to provide hospital visitation and medical decision-making rights to same-sex couples

• make it too obvious you backed gay marriage for political reasons
• remind people how long it took you to "evolve" on the issue


• try to avoid the whole issue
• change the subject back to the economy
• note that you have the support of the gay conservative group GOProud
• say you at least favor "domestic-partnership benefits, hospital visitation rights, and the like"

• speak again at the extreme anti-gay conservative Liberty University
• fonldy reminisce about hazing a gay classmate in high-school
• mention you favor a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, or that you'd instruct your Attorney General to enforce DOMA


Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

White Working Class


• brag about adding back more than 4.3 million private sector jobs – half a million in manufacturing – but admit there’s a lot more work to do
• point out that Romney’s proposed tax cuts will help the richest and hurt most hard-working Americans and say you'd raise taxes on the wealthiest
• note that you saved the auto industry (and 1.1 million jobs)

• get into the free trade agreements you signed with South Korea, Colombia and Panama
• say the private sector’s "doing fine"
• mention that while the recovery has boosted better-paid managers and professionals, most workers haven't seen much benefit


blame Obama for the lousy economy
bash (and say you'll get tough on) China
• try to cast Obama as out of touch, having spent "too much time at Harvard"

keep drawing attention to how amazingly rich you are – so no more $10,000 bets, "a couple of Cadillacs," "NASCAR owners" etc.
talk up your career as a private equity titan at Bain Capital

Wall Streeters/1%

Krisanne Johnson/Getty Images

One Percenters


• point out you've issued fewer new regulations than did G.W. Bush
• talk about how you signed free trade agreements to "level the playing field for American businesses"
• note that liberals wish you'd do more to rein in Wall Street
• call JPMorgan chief Jamie Dimon "one of the smartest bankers we got," even if he did lose billions of dollars

• yammer on about raising the tax on "carried interest," the main source of income for most private-equity managers
• talk too much about the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, the Buffett Rule, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
• go anywhere near Elizabeth Warren


• say you plan to repeal Dodd-Frank on Day One
• blast Obama for pushing "the most anti-investment, anti-business, anti-jobs series of policies in modern American history"
• repeatedly say "I spent my life in the private sector" and downplay your political career
• accuse Obama of waging "class warfare" and claim to believe he "doesn't understand how the economy works"

• set your "hair on fire" for the movement conservatives
• give capitalism a bad name
• give the game away by saying things like, "I'm not concerned about the very poor."


Scott Olson/Getty Images



• point out that Romney supports Rep. Paul Ryan’s "marvelous" budget, which would "end Medicare as we know it"
• say things like, "We’re not going to go back to the days when our citizens spent their golden years at the mercy of private insurance companies."
• keep deploying 69-year-old Joe Biden as a surrogate to seniors

• focus too much on social issues (especially abortion and gay marriage) where seniors lean conservative
• talk about "change"!


• say Obamacare "could lead to the rationing or denial of care for seniors"
• emphasize that your own Medicare-dismantling plan wouldn't affect anyone currently 55 or over
• mention you have 18 grandchildren
• hammer on the idea that the country is headed in the wrong direction

talk about how you'd "reform" Social Security


Justin Sullivan/Getty Images



brag about how you increased fuel-economy standards, regulated mercury pollution, invested in clean energy, expanded wilderness protection
• mention you rejected the Keystone Pipeline
• blame congress for failure to pass climate change bill; and hint you'll try again in your second term
• hit Romney as being "in the tank for Big Oil"


• mention your support for "responsible" fracking, "clean coal," nuclear energy, or expanded Arctic drilling
• admit you'll probably approve Keystone in the end
• talk about how nixed a plan to tighten smog rules
• concede you barely mentioned "climate change" in the past couple of years


• remember: even if you're not big on the environment, plenty of swing voters are
• be ambiguous about where you stand on climate change
• talk about investing in "basic research and advanced technology" for alternative energy
• by all means, call it "creation care"  if you want

• talk up your plan to quadruple down on America's "cornucopia of carbon-based energy resources"
• say you’ll get Keystone up and running "if I have to build it myself"
• make comments like, "You can't drive a car with a windmill on it!"
• accuse Obama of waging "war against oil and coal," and trash the EPA

christian conservatives

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Hard-core Conservatives

Obama (N/A)


• imply Obama isn't a real American, without actually saying it; this works: "I just don't think the president understands America"
• emphasize your hard-right positions on gay marriage, abortion, stem cell research, etc.
• say you’ll work to "enhance access and opportunities for Americans to hunt, shoot, and protect their families" with guns
• promise you'll pick right-wingers like Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court
• Repeat the word "America" ad nauseam; as in, "I love America"

• remind people you used to be a Massachusetts moderate
• fess up that, yeah, Obamacare is pretty much indistinguishable from Romneycare
• say stuff like "I’m not going to set my hair on fire" to rile up the base
• be so squeamish about calling Obama a socialist ("big-spending liberal" won't cut it)
• don't say "Mormon"


Isaac Brekken/MCT/MCT via Getty Images

Hard-core Liberals


• talk up your biggest achievements – health care reform, Wall Street regulation – without getting into the (disappointing) details
• hint that in a second term you'll get serious about climate change and immigration reform
• point out that it's you or Romney – and "the lower-taxes, less-regulation approach that got us into the mess in the first place."
• name check the Koch Brothers; repeat

• have your people running around sneering about "the professional left"
• bring up your Bush-like civil liberties record
• make such a show of cracking down on pot
• take anything, or anyone, for granted; otherwise, they might vote for you, but they won't fight for you

Romney (N/A)

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