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Barack Obama's drop in the polls last week can be attributed entirely to that special group within the electorate known as The Swing Voters.  Swing Voters are people who---unlike you or me---really can be persuaded to vote for either a Democrat or a Republican.  Their support for either candidate is always very tenuous.  Barack Obama still has plenty of time to win them back.  Whichever way they happen to be leaning at this point is irrelevant.  It is during the last three weeks of October that Obama needs to win them over.

It is absolutely crucial that we Democrats come to understand the Swing Voters as a group.  These people are essentially "headline readers" & "sound byte nibblers."  When they see in the headlines that Candidate A accused Candidate B of having a certain personality defect, they tend to believe it.  (Unless it is effectively answered.)  That is why negative campaigning [=character assassination] is so effective with these people.

While Democrats knock themselves out every election cycle trying to talk to Swing Voters about The Issues, Republican strategists calmly focused their attention on winning The Image Campaign.  The Issues might actually be important to many Swing Voters early on in a political campaign, but when both sides start to pick apart each other’s facts & interpretations, the typical Swing Voter quickly becomes confused.  As the debate over The Issues drags on, Swing Voters realize that they don’t understand the details well enough to make an informed decision, so they end up relying on their impressions of the candidates.

Republican strategists see this clearly.  That is why they continuously try to create doubts in the minds of the Swing Voters about the character of the Democratic candidate.  They know that it doesn’t really matter if they can’t find any real flaws in their Democratic opponents.  Accusations, insinuations, & innuendo will work just fine.  They hope to encourage voters to question the motivation and dependability of The Democrats.  They try to create the perception that Democrats are "defective" in a disturbing way.  They know that by accusing , they are able to suggest to Swing Voters that they are not [defective like the Democrats].

The most important reason why negative campaigning has worked so well for the Republicans is because their negative attacks on the Democrats create a positive impression of Republican candidates, who appear—in contrast—to be individuals who do not possess the defects that they have accused others of having.  They define themselves [positively] by defining their Democratic opponents [negatively].

On a visceral level, what the Republicans actually "stand for" in the minds of Swing Voters on election day is that they are not Democrats—those defective people who seem to have been born to ruin everything.  It’s simple, really.  By bashing Democrats, Republicans present themselves as the desirable alternative.  Negative character attacks also provide the Republicans with one more benefit.  They know that the media will give priority coverage to their personal attacks, distracting attention away from any of the "substance" blather that Democrats always like to talk about.

Barack Obama will only win in November if he comes to fully appreciate the role that EMOTION always plays in winning over the Swing Vote.  Just ask yourself why it is that the word "Liberal" acquired the negative connotation that it has today?  The answer is: the Republicans created that negative connotation by repeatedly expressing scorn and derision whenever they used the word to describe their Democratic opponents.  They expressed disgust for anyone who would be foolish enough to be such a person.

Whenever politicians express strongly felt emotions, Swing Voters tend to grant them a greater measure of authenticity.  After all, why else would McCain be so upset?)  Just think of the times when Republicans laugh at Democrats.  They don’t just laugh in a way that shows they have a good sense of humor; they laugh in a way that communicates their contempt for Democrats.

It’s not the words we use, Democrats; it’s the emotions we show when we use particular words.  Consider the phony outrage that Lynne & Dick Cheney expressed after the third debate four years ago.  At a time when it was crucial for Kerry to continue to build momentum after a solid debate performance, his advisors ended up losing the post-debate spin.  They lost it because they didn’t understand how crucial Kerry’s response would be and they didn’t understand how a candidate absolutely must respond to an Angry Outrage Performance if she wants to win.

The big story that Swing Voters saw on TV the next day (those who didn’t watch the debate) was that the Cheneys were really angry that Kerry had called their daughter a lesbian on national TV.  What turned this into a home run for the Republicans was Kerry’s unfortunate response; a written statement that sounded a lot like an apology.  The overall impression this gave to Swing Voters was that Kerry had apparently done some "dirty politicking."  Then, after the Cheneys apparently called him on it, he offered [what sounded like] a weak apology and then tried to change the subject ['let's get back to talking about the Issues'].

Whenever Democratic candidates are the target of a Republican politician’s expressed ANGER, it is crucial that they respond properly if they want to win The Image Campaign.  Impressions formed during such confrontations are usually remembered on voting day.  John Kerry should have responded emotionally by calling for a televised press conference, and then using the spotlight to laugh at the Cheneys’ phony display of anger.  Laughter is the appropriate emotion for a candidate to feel and express when he is guilty of no wrongdoing whatsoever.  After laughing at the Cheneys, Kerry would then have been able to focus the media’s attention on the real story, which was/is the clever manipulations and deceptions that the Republicans always use to mislead voters.

Anyone remember what Karen Hughes did to Al Gore in 2000 with the same kind of expressions of emotion (outrage, indignation)?

With this kind of response, Kerry would have told the Swing Voters how they should respond to the reports they’re hearing.  That is to say, he needed to model the response that he wanted the Swing Voters to have.  The Republicans do this all the time.  (Human Nature 101: people depend on you to tell them how to perceive you.)  Also, holding a press conference would have given Kerry an opportunity to enjoy the humor of the situation with the members of the media who were present (it encourages the media to have a favorable impression of you as a candidate).  In his initial remarks to the press, he would have wanted to smile broadly, shake his head, and express mild but sincere amusement at the Cheneys’ performance.  Then, he would have wanted to review with good-humored stabs of ridicule the many times that the Cheneys had, themselves, mentioned their daughter’s lesbianism to the public.

After dismissing the phony outrage in this way, Kerry should then have seized the opportunity to get on a soapbox and explain how this incident illustrates the great threat that The Cunning Republicans represent to the average American.  In a more serious tone, he could have taken the time to explain what the Cheneys were doing and why they were doing it (& how it was a classic example of the conniving sort-of-thing that the Republicans always do to win elections).  He could have turned the whole episode into a complete disaster for the Republicans by focusing attention—with first hand evidence—on the characteristic duplicity of Republican politicians.  Swing Voters would have perceived that John Kerry appeared to be innocent of wrongdoing because he showed no fear in the face of the Cheneys’ anger.

One more thing I think Barack Obama needs to work out in his mind...  Whenever he expresses his respect for John McCain, he models the kind of respect that McCain wants the Swing Voters to have of him.  Every time McCain models disrespect for Barack Obama, he is telling the Swing Voters how they should perceive Barack Obama.  This stuff works.  My instinct would be to show only a token, passing comment of respect for McCain's service, but then be quite articulate in showing how little respect every American should have for John McCain's tactics [and his profound lack of intelligence].  I'm sure that if there is a better way to achieve the same goal, Barack will find it...

The Republican Nemesis

Originally posted to James Kroeger on Sun Aug 24, 2008 at 07:51 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Now, with Joe Biden on board... (7+ / 0-)

    ...Barack can bring 'em back into the fold...

  •  Diarist, meet Joe Biden. (4+ / 0-)

    Token respect morphs to partisan pit bull.

    McCain won't know what hit him.

  •  of course negative campaigning works (12+ / 0-)

    its especially effective on low-information voters.

    My eight year old daughter has been watching the Olympics with me, and she told me the other night: "I hope John McCain is the next president?"  

    I was startled because we'd never talked about politics before.  I asked why she wanted John McCain to win and she said:

    That Barack Obama is bad, he's going to raise taxes on poor people.  

    •  Of course yes... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      drewfromct, Youffraita

      ...but you know what?  You can't win without getting their votes.

      •  Very true (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Cat Nerd, James Kroeger

        You can't win without getting their votes.

        Where Dems always muck it up is by  refusing to get down in the mud. When the fight is in the dirt, you can't hope to win by trying to keep your skirts clean and stay "Above the Fray". By not fighting where the fight is, you lose. The Rethugs have no scruples whatsoever about speaking to the uneducated in language that they understand, while the Dem approach is more akin to Professor Frink attempting to explain particle physics to Cletus the slack-jawed yokel.

        Al Qeada is a faith-based initiative.

        by drewfromct on Sun Aug 24, 2008 at 08:09:11 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Lol! (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Cat Nerd, drewfromct

          ...the Dem approach is more akin to Professor Frink attempting to explain particle physics to Cletus the slack-jawed yokel.

          I am so sick of hearing Democratic nominees/strategists trying to emphasize the ISSUES to the Swing Voters.  Yes, bring up the issues, but understand that the way you use them to define your opponent in an undesirable way is the key to victory...

    •  Tell her that's a lie. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Cat Nerd, drewfromct

      Presidents don't raise taxes.  That's the job of Congress and because John McCain has been doing favors for friends, our taxes have gone up.

      How do you tell a predator from a protector? The predator will eat you sooner rather than later.

      by hannah on Sun Aug 24, 2008 at 08:03:09 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  It's kinfd od insulting (0+ / 0-)

      no offense to your daughter, to treat any voter as though they are stupid. The % of people who are this misinformed and 'low information' are not going to vote for Obama or any other Democrat. Why not focus on the ones who while swing or not affiliated with our party are disenchanted with the whole process? One reason Obama won the primary and brought in new voters was because he does not talk down to people and treat them as though their stupid. While the TV acts like were all morons I think most people have had enough of this.

      "And if my thought-dreams could be seen They'd probably put my head in a guillotine" Bob Dylan

      by shaharazade on Sun Aug 24, 2008 at 08:08:08 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Sorry, but (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Cat Nerd, James Kroeger, BB10

        insulting or not, it works. That is how the Rethugs win elections. And while many of us are insulted by the dumbing down of consumer culture, why do so many Americans love stuff like American Idol, Pro Wrestling, and fast food? Why is it that the crappiest products, which have the largest ad budgets, sell more than higher-quality competitors?

        Like it or not, there are a lot of stupid people out there. We can speak to them in their own language and win them over to our side, or we can lose them by speaking in terms they either cannnot or simply refuse to even try to understand, or we can just write them off to the Rethugs entirely.

        I'm for getting them onto our side, even if--no, especially if--it means boiling the Progressive message down to a soundbite that any 8 year old can understand and get on board with. The Rethugs are masters at this kind of thing, and that is why they so consistently win elections--because not all voters are stupid, and not all stupid people vote, but a whole lot of stupid people do vote, and they only way to reach them is by dumbing down your message into terms that they can understand.

        Al Qeada is a faith-based initiative.

        by drewfromct on Sun Aug 24, 2008 at 08:19:22 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I disagree (0+ / 0-)

          we lose more votes this way then we gain. I work grassroots and most people will just say they are the same and are not willing to 'hold their nose and vote'. Over and over we fish in thier voter pond. Over half the country doesn't vote and it's not from apathy it's because they see no difference, no point. Independants  aren't low information they tend to be Independents because they don't buy the party hype.

          "And if my thought-dreams could be seen They'd probably put my head in a guillotine" Bob Dylan

          by shaharazade on Sun Aug 24, 2008 at 06:36:54 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  go negative on negative GOP campaign (7+ / 0-)

    the public now says GOP went negative big and first. therefore you attack with ads like:

    "John McCain is mudslinging again..."

    it always works once a pol has been stupid enough to go negative first. but you have to attack it as negative.

  •  Ya, think? Of course it (0+ / 0-)

    does that is how Bush got elected twice.

    •  Not a discovery... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      highacidity

      ...the explanation WHY is why I wrote the diary.  Did you read it?

      •  Oh I agree, but when Democrats do it, the (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        James Kroeger

        media uses it against Democrats, and when Republicans do it, it is OK, because they are like "Republicans".

        It needs to be done in a clever way.  Personally, I think the attacks by the Republicans use need be neutralized.  They need to be neutralizing them by mocking them, and using logic against them.

        But to make my point, I am just saying Democrats are treated differently, and expected to act differently.  It doesn't mean that Democrats can't go on offense.  But when they do go on offense they must attack with passion and reason, and put the Republicans in their place and show how hollow and untrue their attacks are.  They must show America that Republicans attack to divide and concur and put forward an agenda that will tear America apart.

  •  This is an interesting review of the (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cat Nerd, drewfromct, Geekesque

    Swifties.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/...

    Their successes have not actually been all that great.

    On the other hand, I'm not sure that answering a lie is the solution.  The strategy is to lie about some area in which the Republican is defective.  So, coming back with "so are you" is not going to be persuasive.  Better perhaps to expose the tactic and strike with the truth.

    One other reason why talking about the opponent works is because low-information voters like gossip.  They don't like issues.

    "Too many houses" is much more interesting than the homeless crisis.

    How do you tell a predator from a protector? The predator will eat you sooner rather than later.

    by hannah on Sun Aug 24, 2008 at 07:59:33 AM PDT

  •  Defining you opponent through negative (7+ / 0-)

    ads has been the key to every Republican victory. Until we do the same we will always face more of a battle than we should. An ad campaign that focusses on "the real John McCain" must begin soon. He is out of touch, he will raise your taxes, he will bankrupt the country, he will start the draft, he will create enemies and take us to war, he cheated on his wife, and on and on.

    •  Yes, but the reason is because the voters (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Cat Nerd, drewfromct, Gary Norton

      are successfully distracted from the Republican's flaws.  There are only 24 hours in a day.  If you spend them responding to meaningless charges, there's no time left for the truth.

      How do you tell a predator from a protector? The predator will eat you sooner rather than later.

      by hannah on Sun Aug 24, 2008 at 08:09:41 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Distraction... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Gary Norton

        ...is definitely part of it.  But ignoring their attacks will lose the election for you.  What you and I understand to be 'meaningless charges' are not perceived to be meaningless by the impressionable.

      •  If we attack, we don't need to respond as (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        hannah, James Kroeger

        much. A concerted set of attack ads over a period of weeks is what defines a candidate. As of now we are basically responding, or using short term attacks that are not repeated enough. We did not have to wait for McCain's house statement to start the "out of touch" line. It has been there all along.

        •  True, but there are so many other (0+ / 0-)

          issues involved in the house.

          I, for example, think that humans invented houses, not so much to shelter themselves from environmental hazards, but because an enclosed space is easier to light (so one can make things long into the night) and, to the extent it shuts out disturbing sounds (the natural environment is really noisy, as anyone who's not used to country living can attest), being enclosed makes it easier to think and reflect and let the brain come up with new connections.  Human consciousness is enhanced by living in houses.  Of course, the less brain-blessed is going to benefit less.

          McCain is cunning, but not very intelligent. There are some faculties which we share with all sorts of other creatures.  I'm thinking of the killdeer which tries to distract potential predators by pretending to have a broken wing and making lots of noise.

          How do you tell a predator from a protector? The predator will eat you sooner rather than later.

          by hannah on Mon Aug 25, 2008 at 03:46:55 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  As a grassroots worker (0+ / 0-)

    who canvased extensively for Obama in the primary I disagree. Swing voters and Independents like a candidate who shows some spunk who stands ups to the status quo. The question I heard most from these voters was How's he going to do this? or Their all the same. They have no party ax to grind and care about a candidate who they perceive as beyond the politics as usual. They do seem to want someone who won't take shit another sentiment I heard a lot. Coke or Pepsi came up more when campaigning for Kerry .    

    "And if my thought-dreams could be seen They'd probably put my head in a guillotine" Bob Dylan

    by shaharazade on Sun Aug 24, 2008 at 08:00:51 AM PDT

    •  With all due respect... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      drewfromct

      ...there aren't many true Swing Voters registered as Democrats.  Remember, true Swing Voters can/will vote for either party.  If you are going out of your way to vote in a Democratic Priimary, you either identify substantially with the Democrats, or you are a Republican trying to affect the outcome.  Of course there are a few exceptions...

      •  my lists (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        highacidity

        toward the end were swing, Independents not decided and newly registered some had never registered before some had switched parties. At the start I even had Republicans on my lists. A surprising amount of Republicans had expressed interest in Obama, they were disqusted with the Bushies and saw Obama as a guy with integrity and someone who offered a new politics. Assuming anyone who is swing is 'low information' is just not true.    

        "And if my thought-dreams could be seen They'd probably put my head in a guillotine" Bob Dylan

        by shaharazade on Sun Aug 24, 2008 at 08:14:34 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  My wife... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          shaharazade

          ...and now both of her sisters are former life-long Republicans who have come around to see the truth.  The war was a big factor.  I don't consider them to be swing voters because they were fully invested in their identities as Republicans for years.  They are going to get Barack Obama elected...

          •  Maybe I reacted to (0+ / 0-)

            the term 'negative' incorrectly. I think like Obama that much of what comes out of the TV pundiyry and noise machine is just a distraction and most voters see it for what it is. The 27-30% that bite are not going to vote for Obama anyway. To wallow around in the slime just turns most off.

            "And if my thought-dreams could be seen They'd probably put my head in a guillotine" Bob Dylan

            by shaharazade on Sun Aug 24, 2008 at 09:35:02 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  My son was a (0+ / 0-)

              Bush fan. He hated Kerry thought he was a slimey wimp. He likes Obama he thinks he's a liberal but says he offers a real choice. He likes his 'fierceness' as he calls it and he thinks he's smart. I think Obama's strength and appeal is that he offers these swing voters a dignified way to switch and appeals to there intelligence not the lowest common denominator.

              "And if my thought-dreams could be seen They'd probably put my head in a guillotine" Bob Dylan

              by shaharazade on Sun Aug 24, 2008 at 09:41:08 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

  •  Recc'd! (5+ / 0-)

    I hope this one makes the recc list, because you're saying exactly what I've been saying for a long time now. I'm sick to death of spineless, milquetoast Dem "leadership" that rarely, if ever, dares to speak strongly about the Rethugs, and then always can't back down and issue tearful apologies fast enough when someone accidentally does.

    If we've learned anything from the likes of Karl Rove and Lee Attwater, it's that slinging mud works.If you don't believe me, just ask Max Cleland, Micheal Dukakis, John Kerry, or Willie Horton.

    Al Qeada is a faith-based initiative.

    by drewfromct on Sun Aug 24, 2008 at 08:02:59 AM PDT

  •  Edwards not Kerry talked about Cheney's daughter (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cat Nerd, drewfromct, FishOutofWater

    And Cheney actually thanked Edwards for his kind remarks during the debate itself.  Which made the clearly manufactured outrage the next day even more ridiculous.

    •  Indeed.... (0+ / 0-)

      Which made the clearly manufactured outrage the next day even more ridiculous.

      They are salivating at the thought of their next opportunity to rev up the old outrage once again...

    •  Kerry did too (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Geekesque, James Kroeger

      The outrage was after the third debate, in which Kerry referred to Cheney's daughter, "who's a lesbian. . ."  And you're right that Edwards had previously mentioned it and was thanked by Cheney.

      If there really were a radical black Muslim country-club elitist in the race, I'd probably vote for him just for novelty's sake.

      by cardinal on Sun Aug 24, 2008 at 08:18:01 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  You seem to have a very low opinion (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cardinal, Geekesque

    of the intellect of "swing voters."  While some of them are undoubtedly what people call "low information voters," I don't think all of them are.  I think some of them are reasonably intelligent people who have views on issues that fall somewhere between the extreme right and the extreme left.  That is why each party tries to paint the other side as an extremist in some way, while trying to paint themselves as reasonble, middle class, "kitchen table," all that sort of thing.  Some of these swing voters really might be paying attention, they just vote for the candidate that they think is more "middle of the road" instead of representing the extreme left or right views of their party.

    •  Don't kid yourself. The negative ads work. If (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      drewfromct, Geekesque

      you get people to believe the lies, you get the vote. The republicans have put out McBush's foreign policy experience, where is it? everyone believes their lies. Every ad says Obama will raise taxes??? Where does that come from??? but people believe it. Don't kid yourself, voters ARE DUMB, and they will believe anything!

      •  Some of them undoubtedly are (0+ / 0-)

        And yes, negative campaigning works for them. I just don't dismiss all undecided voters as stupid.  I think some really are "middle of the road" on issues and will vote Repub or Dem, depending on which candidate they believe has a more moderate, or middle of the road position on issues.  How many of these people are out there, I don't know.  But they make up a significant number of the people I talk to who are undecided.  

      •  Voters aren't dumb. They tell the truth (0+ / 0-)

        and expect other people to tell the truth, as well.  Moreover, they don't like being lied to and prefer to make up some excuse to hide that they were.

        How to counteract that?  Don't tell them they were lied to.  Tell them the truth and let them see the conflict and decide that maybe they made a mistake. Or, maybe those Republicans really are rats.

        How do you tell a predator from a protector? The predator will eat you sooner rather than later.

        by hannah on Sun Aug 24, 2008 at 08:22:38 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Don't really disagree... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Cat Nerd

      I break down the electorate roughly along these lines:

      30% Democrats (always)

      30% Republicans (always)

      10% Lean Democrat

      10% Lean Republican

      10% Somewhat informed independents who like to consider both sides, but are quite heavily influenced by the same factors I mentioned above that affect the 'almost clueless' Swing Voters

      10% 'True' Swing Voters, headline readers and sound bite nibblers all the way...

  •  Facts would help this diary (0+ / 0-)

    "Donde estan los ladrones? " -Shakira

    by delphil on Sun Aug 24, 2008 at 08:15:54 AM PDT

  •  While I dislike sports metaphors (0+ / 0-)

    applied to politics because it's a competition, not a contest where one knocks the other out, Democrats should forget about defense.  Republican charges are either lies or problems Democrats intend to fix.  But, explaining the latter is too complex.  I mean, who even knows whether a particular fix will work.
    Republicans don't care because they don't want to do anything.  For eight years they've been content to "Let George Do It," which is why we're in the mess we're in.

    Why would anyone want to replace "let George do it" with "let John take a crack?"

    How do you tell a predator from a protector? The predator will eat you sooner rather than later.

    by hannah on Sun Aug 24, 2008 at 08:17:58 AM PDT

  •  It's a blood sport, and you win by destroying (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    drewfromct

    your opponent's reputation for honesty, decency, and character in general.

    The Obama campaign learned that the politics of hope doesn't have much traction with the low-information twits who decide the election every four years.

    The Republicans aren't afraid to treat voters like idiots, and that has been their greatest advantage.

    "[R]ather high-minded, if not a bit self-referential"--The Washington Post.

    by Geekesque on Sun Aug 24, 2008 at 08:29:35 AM PDT

  •  Recommended! (4+ / 0-)

    Thanks for articulating so clearly what I'm always yelling at my TeeVee when a McSame smear ad comes on. Dems don't have to just make shit up like the Repugs do, but some negative (but true) ads that play to voters' emotions would do the trick. How many people voted for Bush because they'd "rather have a beer with him" for fuck's sake. Kerry and Gore were the ones with the brains, but by painting them as eggheaded elitists, the repugs won. I like house-gate. It has a lot of potential in terms of getting the emotional response we want from people without having to explain complicated facts that they don't understand or care about.  

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