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'Fiscal cliff': Has Obama overdone the PR? (+video)

It's possible, especially to folks paying close attention to fiscal cliff negotiations. But with polls showing support for tax hikes on the wealthy, he appears to be leveraging public opinion effectively.

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It’s been a month since Election Day, but in a way Obama hasn’t stopped campaigning. He held an East Room press conference on Nov. 14. He made a campaign-style trip to a toy factory in Pennsylvania on Nov. 30 to demonstrate the risk of fiscal-cliff uncertainty during the holiday shopping season. His White House set up a Twitter hashtag – #My2k – aimed at gathering stories from Americans about what $2,000 (i.e., 2k) means to them. So far, 375,000 people have responded, including Santana.

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Obama has also held meetings at the White House with CEOs, small-business owners, average Americans, and a bipartisan delegation of governors. His outreach to the private sector also included a speech Wednesday to the Business Roundtable.

Is all this PR coming at the expense of actual negotiating, as Republicans suggest? The White House insists not. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has led negotiations with the Republicans. And Obama has kept in touch with House Speaker John Boehner on the phone. The two spoke on Wednesday.

The flip side of that question is whether the White House has, in fact, been effectively leveraging public opinion as Dec. 31 approaches. In the past few weeks, polls have consistently shown a majority of Americans support higher taxes on incomes over $250,000 – Obama’s bright line in the negotiations – to avoid the fiscal cliff.

It’s impossible to prove that Obama’s PR blitz has affected public opinion, but if you’re the White House, that’s the safer bet. And so analysts expect the president to keep making his pitch to the public until it really is time to cut a deal.

“He feels, and I understand why, that the election was a mandate for raising taxes on the wealthiest, and he doesn’t know how long he’ll have it,” says Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

Just as important as the polls showing support for a tax hike on the wealthy are Obama’s relatively strong job-approval ratings – generally over 50 percent since Election Day.

Obama’s approach “is fine as long as it doesn’t lead to stubbornness and arrogance that takes us over the cliff,” says Mr. Sabato.

FISCAL CLIFF 101: 5 basic questions answered


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