Why is Barack Obama struggling to push his policies through? When he came into office, Obama wanted to bridge the partisan gap between Democrats and Republicans and introduce extensive legislation to improve health care for Americans and to regulate the financial services industry. None of that really happened in the way anticipated by the President.
There are of course previous examples in the history of the United States where a President did not live up to the expectations. And interestingly, there is also a pattern to be found: As Robert B. Cialdini, professor emeritus for Psychology and Marketing at the Arizona State University, writes in his book “Influence. The Psychology of Persuasion”, the less successful Presidents were all new to Washington – as was Barack Obama.
This is important because of a powerful psychological principle which is often employed in marketing, but also politics: reciprocity. If someone does us a favour, we are very much inclined to return the favour when asked to do so. In politics, this is often used to rally support for a certain piece of legislation independent of party membership.
As Cialdini writes
this same process may account for the problems Jimmy Carter had in getting his programs through Congress during his early administration despite heavy Democratic majorities in both House and Senate. Carter came to the presidency from outside the Capitol Hill establishment. He campaigned on his outside-Washingtin identity, saying that he was indebted to no one there.
Sounds familiar? That was also the exact platform Barack Obama was campaigning on when he was elected President. Cialdini’s conclusion however is disillusioning as he believes that much of Carter’s legislative difficulty upon arriving in office “may be traced to the fact that no one there was indebted to him.”
Seems you cannot do it right in American politics.