Play It Again, Joe. Biden bets that repeating himself is smart politics

Aug 3, 2023, 9:04 PM

FILE - President Joe Biden speaks at the National Safer Communities Summit at the University of Har...

FILE - President Joe Biden speaks at the National Safer Communities Summit at the University of Hartford in West Hartford, Conn., Friday, June 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden has his zingers (“This is not your father’s Republican Party”). He’s got patriotism (“This is the United States of America, dammit”). He’s got a geometry-based explanation on how grow to the economy (“from the middle out and the bottom up”).

Move over, Beyonce and Taylor Swift. Biden has his own greatest hits and he’s keeping them on repeat.

If you’ve heard one of the president’s recent speeches, you’ve basically heard them all — and you’re sure to keep hearing the same refrains in the year-plus leading up to Election Day 2024. People in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah will get to sample the playlist starting Tuesday, when Biden makes a three-day swing through the Southwest.

Biden knows where the country is in the arc of history (“at an inflection point”). He knows what the middle class needs (“a little bit of breathing room”). Did you know his wife, Jill, is from Philadelphia? Yep, he “married a Philly girl” and will be “sleeping alone” if he fails to root for Philadelphia sports teams.

The repetition is a strategic choice — one with a scientific basis in a society that is loaded with distractions. People need to see his TV ads and speeches dozens of times before they truly absorb them, his campaign believes. The president has built a multi-decade political career on repeating the same stories in order to explain the principles behind his policies.

“That’s communications 101 — developing a compelling message and repeating it again and again,” said White House communications director Ben LaBolt, who noted that marketing has a “rule of seven” in which a customer generally needs to see a message at least seven times before making a purchase.

LaBolt noted that most voters are busy taking their kids to soccer, making breakfast or commuting to their jobs. ”They’re not consuming news like they’re sitting in the White House briefing room — you have to repeat a message over time so that people remember it,” he said, noting that this has become increasingly the case in a fractured media environment.

The president has staked his reelection on convincing a wary public that the economy is rock solid because of his policies.

That means Biden is putting his economic pitch on repeat, hoping to break through the daily clutter by delivering his message often enough that voters will recall it and accept it as truth. The White House thinking is that voters will turn out for him if they know that their new bridge, new factory or tax break for an electric vehicle came from his legislative accomplishments.

He’s even repeated in speeches the importance of repetition.

“We got to let people know what we’ve done and how we’ve done it and why we did it,” he recently told donors in Chicago after delivering a speech about “Bidenomics” — a term he has used at least 39 times during the past month in public remarks.

Philly girl Jill Biden has her own estimates for how often her husband deploys one of his other favorite phrases about the economy.

“It’s the future of our workforce, how we strengthen the economy from the bottom up and the middle out,” she said at a recent childcare event. “Joe has said that, I think, a million times.”

Close readers of the president’s speeches will note that sometimes “middle out” and “bottom up” switch places. The first lady led with with “bottom up,” while her husband has lately been more of a “middle out” guy.

Repetition has been a time-tested strategy for politicians of all stripes and throughout the ages.

Donald Trump, the former president and current Republican frontrunner for 2024, promised over and over to “build the wall” at the Mexican border. He dubbed his 2016 opponent “Crooked Hillary” and pledged to “drain the swamp” like a mantra. He likes to recite the lyrics to the Al Wilson song “The Snake” like an encore at a concert.

Bill Clinton signaled that he was a young Democrat with an eye to the future by frequently talking about building a “bridge to the 21st Century.” Republicans defined Democrats in the 1980s as “tax-and-spend liberals.” In his famed “I have a dream” speech, Martin Luther King Jr. used the word “dream” 11 times.

Speaking in the Roman Senate more than 2,100 years ago, Cato the Elder famously ended his speeches with the well-worn line “Carthage must be destroyed.” (Roman forces did just that a few years later.)

“Repetition increases retention,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a professor of communications at the University of Pennsylvania. “There is no hard and fast rule on number of reiterations needed to produce retention. Concise, vividly phrased messages that employ parallelism and alliteration are more readily remembered.”

What Biden is trying to do is a bit more challenging: He’s using repetition to try to change voters’ decidedly negative views of the economy because cold hard data has not been enough. The low 3.6% unemployment rate and a decline in inflation over the past year to 3% annually has done little to boost his ratings.

Only 24% of U.S. adults described the economy as good in a June survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs. Nearly two-thirds disapprove of how Biden has handled the economy.

“It’s hard to get awareness levels up for policy accomplishments,” said John Anzalone, Biden’s 2020 pollster. holding out repetition as part of the solution. “At the end of the day, people are going to know a heck of a lot about the roads and water systems and broadband that are being put around America.”

Officials at the White House and campaign know Biden’s standard stump speech isn’t likely to make national news, particularly as his domestic travels pick up along with the campaign. They’re more interested in getting local coverage that drives home the idea that his economic policies are having a tangible effect with voters on the ground.

There are early signs that people are starting to feel better about the economy. The Conference Board said Tuesday that consumer confidence has leapt to a two-year high and a key indicator is no longer signaling a recession.

But even with the best lines, repetition is not foolproof — and it can even tip over into annoyance if overdone.

“The liking of the message tends to follow a bell curve,” said Juliana Fernandes, a communications professor at the University of Florida. “It’s tiredness and boredom actually. If I’m not learning anything new from the message, I’m going to at some point dislike it.”

For members of the news media — who can recite many of the president’s lines verbatim — overexposure inevitably leads them to play down the very lines that Biden most wants to highlight.

The president acknowledged as much at a June fundraiser in Chevy Chase, Maryland, when he prefaced one of his boilerplate stories by allowing, “I apologize to the press for hearing me say this so many times.”

That apology? He’s repeated it many times over.

National News

Associated Press

Heat has forced organizers to cancel Twin Cities races that draw up to 20,000 runners

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A forecast that record high temperatures and humidity would create “extreme and dangerous” conditions prompted organizers to cancel two long-distance races Sunday in Minnesota’s two largest cities that were expected to draw up to 20,000 runners. The Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon from Minneapolis to neighboring St. Paul had been expected to draw […]

25 minutes ago

File - The Southern University Human Jukebox marching band warms up before the 2023 National Battle...

Associated Press

Federal student loan payments are starting again. Here’s what you need to know

NEW YORK (AP) — Federal student loan borrowers will need to start making payments again this month after a three-year-plus pause due to the pandemic. You should expect a bill that lays out how much you have to pay each month at least 21 days before your due date. It’s likely that most borrowers have […]

48 minutes ago

FILE - Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., appears before the House Rules Committee to propose amendments to t...

Associated Press

Gaetz says he will seek to oust McCarthy as speaker this week and calls for new House leadership

WASHINGTON (AP) — Rep. Matt Gaetz said Sunday he will try to remove House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a fellow Republican, from his leadership position this week after McCarthy relied on Democratic support to pass legislation that avoided a government shutdown. Gaetz, a longtime McCarthy nemesis, said McCarthy was in “brazen, material breach” of agreements he […]

1 hour ago

FILE - Chester County, Pa. election workers process mail-in and absentee ballots at West Chester Un...

Associated Press

Pennsylvania governor’s voter registration change draws Trump’s ire in echo of 2020 election clashes

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Donald Trump has a familiar target in his sights: Pennsylvania’s voting rules. He never stopped attacking court decisions on mail-in ballots during the COVID-19 pandemic, falsely claiming it as a reason for his 2020 loss in the crucial battleground state. Now, the former Republican president is seizing on a decision by […]

3 hours ago

FILE - The U.S. Supreme Court is seen, Wednesday, Aug 30, 2023, in Washington. The new term of the ...

Associated Press

The Supreme Court’s new term starts Monday. Here’s what you need to know

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court seems a bit quieter than in recent years, as the justices begin a new term. Major cases await, as they always do, including several challenges to regulatory agencies and efforts to regulate social media platforms. But nothing yet seems on par with conservative-driven decisions overturning Roe v. Wade’s right […]

3 hours ago

Run by a private firm hired by the city, migrants stay in a makeshift shelter at O'Hare Internation...

Associated Press

Chicago is keeping hundreds of migrants at airports while waiting on shelters and tents

CHICAGO (AP) — Hidden behind a heavy black curtain in one of the nation’s busiest airports is Chicago’s unsettling response to a growing population of asylum-seekers arriving by plane. Hundreds of migrants, from babies to the elderly, live inside a shuttle bus center at O’Hare International Airport’s Terminal 1. They sleep on cardboard pads on […]

10 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Swedish Cyberknife...

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

September is a busy month on the sports calendar and also holds a very special designation: Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.

Ziply Fiber...

Dan Miller

The truth about Gigs, Gs and other internet marketing jargon

If you’re confused by internet technologies and marketing jargon, you’re not alone. Here's how you can make an informed decision.

Education families...

Education that meets the needs of students, families

Washington Virtual Academies (WAVA) is a program of Omak School District that is a full-time online public school for students in grades K-12.

Emergency preparedness...

Emergency planning for the worst-case scenario

What would you do if you woke up in the middle of the night and heard an intruder in your kitchen? West Coast Armory North can help.

Innovative Education...

The Power of an Innovative Education

Parents and students in Washington state have the power to reimagine the K-12 educational experience through Insight School of Washington.

Medicare fraud...

If you’re on Medicare, you can help stop fraud!

Fraud costs Medicare an estimated $60 billion each year and ultimately raises the cost of health care for everyone.

Play It Again, Joe. Biden bets that repeating himself is smart politics