Saturday, July 23, 2005

Why Republicans win elections

I just stumbled upon a very interesting article that explains how Republicans use image and emotion to win elections. It's by James J. Kroeger and is entitled, "The Republican Nemesis". Here are a some passages:

When historians look back on the current era in American politics it will likely stand out as the period when Republican cunning & marketing savvy completely dominated the political landscape. Obliging Democrats have thrown themselves into the fray with enthusiasm, armed with idealistic visions of civil “discourse”, only to be humbled repeatedly by their political masters. Republican strategists have been able to blend their astute grasp of marketing principles, human nature, & social psychology into a formula that delivers almost guaranteed success at the polls. While Democrats knock themselves out every election cycle trying to talk to Swing Voters about THE ISSUES, Republicans have calmly focused their attention on winning The Image Campaign. Quite simply: Democrats lose because they don’t understand what moves their target audience.
Republican strategists know they would rarely win if election results were always determined by a logical discussion of The Issues and nothing more (they know that most voters would benefit more from Democratic economic policies than from Republican policies). They know they must win the Image Campaign to have any chance of winning. That is why they are committed, now and forever, to negative campaigning. Republicans have never forgotten a key stratagem they perfected during the Reagan Era: DEMONIZING YOUR OPPONENTS WORKS. It works because Swing Voters 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.)
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. The negative character attacks also provide the Republicans with one more benefit. They know that the media will give priority coverage to their personal attacks and that it will distract attention away from any of the "substance" blather that Democrats always like to talk about.
What is it that the Republicans do that enables them to manipulate the images of Republican vs. Democrats in the minds of Swing Voters? George Lakoff says that the Republicans are especially talented at choosing words & associations that work for them. True as that may be, it becomes apparent with a little more reflection that it’s not really the words or value-associations that matter so much; it’s the emotions that are expressed when words are used. How is it, after all, that the word liberal acquired the negative connotation that it has today? 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 they be so upset?) Think also 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.
Like it or not, the only way Democrats can win against the modern Republican Party is by defining them as a group that is [morally] defective and threatening. (When the Bad Guys do this, we can accurately describe it as "demonizing" your opponent.) Swing Voters will vote for the Democrat if they end up with an image of The Republican Politician that they find threatening. Unlike the Republicans, we Democrats do not need to fabricate any Republican character flaws out of thin air in order to "define" them effectively. We simply need to point out the truth. Our goal should be to define The Republican Politician as a shrewd, cunning, deceiving, manipulative, mean-spirited, Con-Artist who willfully and gleefully assassinates the character of any innocent victim who stands in his way. We need to describe them in this way with palpable emotion. In terms of basic, overall strategy, Democrats need to constantly remind themselves that it's not the economy, stupid! It's the IMAGE CAMPAIGN!

I recommend that you read the whole article. I wish every Democratic politician would read it. Very insightful. And troubling because Democrats don't seem to understand the principles involved.

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