Thursday, June 07, 2012

The Death Of One Political Party (or The Other)

Contained in the transcript of this interview is an opportunity to make the Democrats (or the Republicans, if they had anyone with balls in their leadership) a permanent majority-- well, for a few decades, at any rate.
ANDREW KOHUT: By the middle of his first term, most Democrats strongly disapproved of George W. Bush. And almost from the get-go, most Republicans have strongly disapproved of Barack Obama. So part of it Is response to these presidencies and the political culture. Part of it, too, is the way the parties have changed. The parties have become smaller than they once were. We have a record number of political independents.
JUDY WOODRUFF: In fact, an unprecedented 38 percent of those surveyed identified as independents, the most to choose that description at any point in the last 75 years.

By comparison, just 32 percent said they were Democrats, and only 24 percent now call themselves Republicans.

There are three bits of information to process here:

1) Self-identified Democrats hold an 8 point edge over self-identified Republicans. This means the Democrats message to its membership has been more effective than the Republicans.

2) Of the 38% who self-identify as "independent," there's a strong diversity (not unexpected) of political views, but no consistency. They can be older and fiscally conservative and socially liberal (which, when you think about it, is an opportunity to make them choose either lower taxes or lower services, and message it that way), they can be younger and fiscally liberal and socially liberal, and then there are the suburban types who really only care about how to take care of the kids and will the trains run on time.

3) Most of the people in the middle, that 38%, aren't independent because they reject either party. They're independent because they believe *both* parties have rejected them. Both have stopped listening to their needs, they feel, and so will choose to vote on candidates.

The opportunity to pluck many of these votes back is waiting, and the work really isn't that hard. Indeed, Bill Clinton was a master at finding votes out of unlikely places, and he made it look easy. You just have to stop framing the world as "us versus them," and start framing it as "me and you."

Look, believe it or not, PBS, The News Hour and Judy Woodruff get it: go out and listen to these people. Speak with them, not to them, and stop using buzzwords and trying to find a Frank-Luntz-like euphemism that becomes a dog whistle for an agenda.
This is a winning strategy for any level of election, from school board to Congress to President. If you pay attention, your reward will be votes. Barack Obama is somewhat better at this than Mitt Romney, and no one seriously questions who will win in November (and that's before the inevitable debates and before the inevitable Romneybot flubs.)
But we need more: we need to find candidates who can set aside a personal agenda and talk with people. Let them know you take them seriously, and don't pop up snappy sound bites in response. That just sounds like you're making the voter a prop (sometimes that works, but not usually.) Really listen to what they are saying, reiterate it back to them, and then find a solution in your bag of bromides that you can tailor to their concerns.
Believe me, we're going to get a lot more votes from independents if we can actually have them saying the next day at church or the dinner table or the gym, "Y'know, so-and-so sat with me and really listened to my problems. I think (s)he cares about what's going on, and may not have the answers but at least understands the question."
Take healthcare reform as an issue: fully 61% of independent voters think it was a horrible idea, that there's already too much government intrusion into their lives. What does that tell you? If someone sat with you and said, "No, there's death panels and mandates and all that."
Here's what would be my response: "Y'know, maybe you have a point. There is a lot of government people running around, telling us what to do, but it's really important to remember something: those are people we elect to keep us safe from harm, to protect us for all threats, foreign and domestic. They are responsible to us, you and me, because we vote for them, or at least, we vote for their bosses. Right now, you have insurers who do the same thing government agents do-- death panels who decide whether you should live or die and how healthy you should be, and mandates that you can't be sick before you buy insurance-- and they aren't responsible to anyone except their profit margins. And they can raise prices for no other reason than they need to pay their CEO a million bucks more. Healthcare reform was an attempt to keep you in the private insurance market, so you can have choices, while keeping a firm hand on the out of control spending that health insurers are pursuing."
A progressive policy laid out in libertarian terms-- government's not the bad guys, they're trying to keep you from having to deal with the bad guys. With a dash of subtle class warfare tossed in for good measure.
It annoys me that something so simple seems so out of reach for so many politicians, and yet, there you have the problem with American politics in a nutshell. No one wants to do anything that hasn't been field tested and brainstormed and focus-grouped to death.
And I suppose I'd feel differently if I was spending tens of millions of dollars to serve for just two years.
All I know is I hate leaving "money" on the table and there's a giant jackpot out there.