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Objectives

This article examines Barack Obama's efforts to interpret and characterize the contrasting outcomes of the 2008 and 2010 elections, using an original data set of presidential communications.

Methods

We performed a content analysis of 241 presidential communications.

Results

Obama's post-2008 mandate claims alternated between claiming a mandate on a variety of policy issues and framing the election as a repudiation of Republican theories of governing. Post-2010, however, Obama framed the midterm results as evidence for electoral demand for bipartisan cooperation, rather than a repudiation of Democratic policies and ideas.

Conclusions

Obama's choices in framing the 2008 election contributed to the administration's failure to communicate effectively. Specifically, Obama neglected to create a strong narrative linking the election's results to support for his policy agenda, focusing instead on the election as a repudiation of Republican policies. In contrast, his interpretations of the 2010 midterms appear to be more effective. By identifying the Republicans' behavior as “dysfunctional” and conceding that the election had indicated a demand for the ideas of both parties, Obama offered a more successful alternative to the Republican narrative.