I've been writing several diaries recently on healthcare reform and the issue of PR and marketing. I'm going to go to continue on this theme and write about the concept of "regular Americans". It follows what I wrote in the last post about marketing ideas and low information voters.
More beneath the fold.
For the purposes of this diary I refer to "regular Americans" as those living in a middle class family. I include families with children and people living in the suburbs and small towns. These are the people who take their children to soccer games, football games, and sporting events. These are the people who are having barbecues and other family events.
What is important to realize about these people is that the vast majority of them don't care about politics. Here it is a Saturday night in the summer. Most people are at home with their families, at parties, having fun, at the movies, or on vacation. They aren't blogging and they aren't paying attention to the issues. Politics is the last thing on their minds. So the key point that I'm making here is that most people are not blogging. They are not out there reading posts or researching the issues. They have neither the time nor the interest to research complex political issues.
Against this backdrop it's important to realize that these voters support candidates who relate to their concerns and issues. At this point I have to say that one of the most important questions that pollsters use when surveying the public about candidates for president is "Does candidate X share my values"? Another key question that matters significantly is "Does candidate X understand my issues and needs"?
Historically--at least since 1968--Democrats and liberals have been on the wrong side of those questions. I hate to bring up to infamous "Who would you rather have a beer with test", but liberals and progressives too often fail that test. And that is a problem for liberal and progressive candidates because the voters are not going to support a candidate who (in their mind) "doesn't share their values or doesn't understand their issues and needs". For whatever reason liberal and progressive candidates aren't able to connect to regular Americans.
For this post I have to state several points that I think that we need to accept. You may not agree with these assumptions and argue that "it shouldn't be that way", but I'm the type of person who deals with how the world is
Point #1: Most people are "low information voters". You can make whatever judgments you want about that and how "horrible it is", but that is the truth. The average voter doesn't know about the complexities about most policy issues, nor does he/she want to know. The bottom line is that that person wants to know how a certain candidate or policy issue position will "help and protect his/her family". Most voters only want a short and brief answer to this one key question: "What will candidate X or bill Y do for me and family?" They don't want to know anything else.
Point #2: Voters don't value arrogance connected to academia. When the choice comes to down to the attractive football player against the intellectual professor, more than seven out of ten times, the football player is going to win! I've heard many people lament here how "our society values ignorance and stupidity", but we have to work with that construct. Most people don't react well to stuck-up academics lecturing them about values or positions.
What has enabled Republicans like the last President Bush to win elections is that they have successfully portrayed themselves as caring about the ordinary person and being the type of candidate whom the voters would like to have over for that summer BBQ or party. They've been able to successfully portray themselves as being "like ordinary people". Which is quite surprising because the last President Bush hardly grew up like ordinary people. He went to Andover, Yale, and Harvard, the private boarding schools and colleges of the elite. Yet he was able to portray himself as a "regular guy".
Part of this, though, was due to Kerry's mistakes. One key moment that sticks out in the campaign was the infamous footage of him windsurfing in the ocean. But it was more than Kerry who failed to connected on this issue. Al Gore also fell into the trap. Although he won that first debate with Bush, during the whole event, he came off as knowing more and being elitist. Compare Gore to how Biden handled Palin. While Palin clearly lacked the gravitas to be VP, Biden wasn't arrogant toward her. Yes, Biden was smart; but he didn't act like that arrogant professor that everyone had in college and hated.
The key here is for liberals and progressives realize is that it doesn't matter if the candidate takes the right position or even had a position that the electorate supports overwhelmingly, but rather how one presents it that matters. In both 2000 and 2004 the American public agreed with Gore, Kerry, and the Democrats on the issues, but Bush still won because he was able to act less arrogant and less elitist. The overarching point is here is that the facts don't matter; it's the appearance of the facts that does. It's how a candidate or people supporting an issue present their sides that matters.
The side that can present its ideas in a way that the vast majority of the public can understand wins. Also elections and public policy debates are popularity contests. The political arena is very much like high school. Most of the time the jocks win and the nerds lose. That is the blunt truth that's not going to change. Progressives and liberals need to adapt to that mindset.
The bottom line: If a progressive or liberal candidate comes off as being a stuck-up academic, hippie who loves drugs, the worst stereotype of an east or west cost elitist, or if the opposition successfully paints him/her as such, the GOP candidate or the conservative position will prevail.
Point #3: You aren't going to win voters over by shaming them or insulting them into submission. The perfect example of what I am talking about is a clip from the Keith Olbermann show when the tea bagging protests first happened. During this interview activist/actress Janeane Garafalo
goes out of her way to denounce them all as "racists" and calls them "stupid". She comes off sounding elitist and arrogant.
Now, before everyone attacks me and says that I'm wrong for criticizing her, I'll admit that SOME of what she is right. Some of the teabaggers did protest from racist motives. Some of them are ignorant. But it's more how she says it that matters the most. She comes off as being one of those liberals who thinks that she's better than the rest of. She typifies the worst sterotypes that many Americans have of the worst types of liberals: someone from the East Coast or West Coast who looks down on ordinary people and thinks that she's morally superior to then. She comes of as one of those people at a BBQ or party who would complain about burgers or meat being served. Or one of those types of people who takes offense at everything.
Shaming and denouncing works well if you're protesting against a company doing an unjust practice. But it doesn't work well if you're trying to reach voters. Calling voters "stupid" or "racist" (even if some of them) isn't going to convince them to change their mind. Keep in mind that, when some volunteers for Obama were canvassing areas like western PA and SE Ohio, some of the voters told them that "they were voting for the n!gger". I would venture to guess that, in certain parts of the country that lean Democratic but aren't on the coasts, Obama did the get the votes of some racists.
Instead the better strategy is to tell them how progressive policies would benefit them. Answer the simple question that I posted in Point #1. They will consider Democrats if they first believe that the candidate is talking to them from a position of respect and that they can answer the simple questions.
Of course there are voters who won't be nice or who will be responsive no matter what a Democrat says. But the bottom line here is showing respect goes a long way. The route of shame and denunciation is likely to backfire.
Point #4: Don't be negative about America. Americans don't want to hear rhetoric that implies or directly claims that "America sucks" or that "America is bad". They also don't want to hear negative messages about the country. What made both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton successful and two termers who won their re-elections comfortably is that they talked about America in positive terms. Even when it came to problems and challenges they offered optomistic solutions. So the key takeaway from this point is to tell Americans how progressive policies will benefit them, how they will improve this country, and how they will take America to its best potential.
In regards to healthcare the progressive side could easily make these points:
--Healthcare reform will increase choice
--Healthcare reform will provide coverage to everyone
--Healthcare reform will ensure that no one ever faces financial ruination
--Healthcare reform will streamline medicine
--Healthcare reform will enable doctors to do their job without interference
--Healthcare reform will make the US the best country in the world for medical care
Anyway the key point here is that the left has to be better at reaching "regular Americans". I'm not sure if I have all the right answers but these were some of the thoughts that I wanted to share with the group tonight.