Without question, Tuesday’s elections were a major victory for the GOP.

Contrary to what Republican pundits have declared, however, the elections were not a referendum on the still-popular Obama administration. Nevertheless, it would be political suicide for the president, and the rest of the Democratic Party, to ignore three critical lessons from Tuesday.

Lesson 1 – Popularity isn’t enough

During the 2008 presidential campaign, President Obama captured the hearts and imaginations of the entire world. Although he continues to hold international rock star status, Obama no longer has the uncritical approval of the general public. While this lesson should have been learned during the president’s endless health care media tour, it has become unavoidable in the wake of incumbent Jon Corzine’s loss in the New Jersey gubernatorial race — following a full-court press by Obama.

Lesson 2 – Jobs matter
For the past five months, President Obama and his Democratic counterparts have told us that we are in the midst of a “jobless economic recovery,” a notion that is as absurdly oxymoronic as an eggless omelet. In reality, when people don’t have jobs and can’t pay bills, they will vote for a candidate who promises relief.

Lesson 3 – Change is bipartisan
Research shows that Democrats’ electoral success in 2008 was due in large part to the American people’s frustration with Republican incumbents. This time around, the same “change” rhetoric was used by Republicans to unseat Democrats whose constituents did not feel better off than they were four years ago. Unless Democrats can start to deliver on their promises around health care, taxes and jobs, voters will mistakenly see Republicans as the “change they can believe in.”

– Marc Lamont Hill is a professor at Columbia University.

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