Do Campaign Gaffes Matter? Not to Voters
ince Friday, the national political conversation has been dominated by a debate over the importance of President Obama’s statement, at a White House press conference, that “The private sector is doing fine.”
Unfortunately, most of the media discussion has focused on strategy rather than policy. At The Washington Post, Chris Cillizza led off a Sunday column with the assertion that “gaffes matter” in shaping election outcomes. Two days earlier, his Post colleague Karen Tumulty described the president’s remark as a “gift” Obama had “handed to Republicans.” (As both Cillizza and Tumulty noted, Obama’s point was that the private sector is faring better than the public sector, where state and local governments continue to shed jobs.)
These claims are representative of the way journalists routinely promote the importance of these sorts of pseudo-controversies, even though there is little convincing evidence that gaffes affect presidential election outcomes. The problem is particularly acute during the summer doldrums between the end of the primary campaigns and the party conventions. As we’ve seen, a bored press corps with space to fill can easily lose perspective.