Saturday, January 17, 2015

Republican Messaging Beats Democrats

Given the track records of the last two Presidential administrations, it is remarkable that the Republican party has chalked up victories in the last two mid-term elections. One factor in those victories has been that the mid-terms historically tend to favor the party out of power. Another is that the Republican base is primarily composed of older, whiter voters who turn out to vote in the mid-terms as well as Presidential elections. However, a third factor is the Republicans' advantage in messaging.

The Republicans are unquestionably better at political "messaging" than the Democrats. I would argue that part of the reason for this is that they have set a much lower bar for themselves. The Republicans start from the premise that "government is the problem" (as Reagan famously said) and that their goal is to limit government and thereby unleash economic prosperity through "the magic of the market."

The GOP mission is made simpler still because they are unconstrained by concerns for factual accuracy. Their base has demonstrated a complimentary willingness to suspend disbelief if their party's message reinforces comforting mythology. Putting this together, it is much easier to reduce partisan pot-shots at Democratic policies to simple, repeatable bumper-sticker slogans that are tailor-made for a spoiled and entitled culture with an ADHD attention span.

By contrast, the Democrats have taken on a more difficult goal. Their mission is to use government to solve big, complex problems that individuals cannot solve for themselves. Their goal becomes more difficult by taking on the added constraint of factual accuracy. Solving problems and then selling qualified, complex results to a public with little interest in complexity is a lot harder than playing the critic.

I think one of the things that has made Barak Obama so successful as a politician is his ability to communicate fairly complex issues in simple, understandable terms. Bill Clinton is masterful at this. By Obama's own admission, he has focused more intently on communication as a candidate than as President and has paid a political price for doing so. Going forward, the Democrats need to identify those within their ranks with this gift and use them in a concerted effort to improve their messaging.

As for the Republicans, I don't think much of their future if they continue to accelerate their current trend toward simpler and more extreme themes. With the explosion of technology and globalism, the world is quickly becoming far more complex. Simple verities from a golden past that never really existed won't cut it. I get that change is scary and there is a natural urge to resist it with denial. However, if history is any guide, we face a simple choice: we can either adapt to changing conditions or be left behind.

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