Saturday, October 28, 2006

Republicans are the new "old" Democrats: The Macro-Trends

The GOP is going to get spanked this election.  If we work our fingers to the bone, call hundreds of numbers, and walk our poor legs off in the precincts, the GOP is going to get a truly legendary electoral spanking.

But it's going to be bad for them either way--I can almost guarantee it.  I guarantee it not because of the polls; not because of the scandals; not because of the incompetence; and not because of the weak motivation of their base.

No--I guarantee it as a focus group moderator and market researcher.

I guarantee it based on the GOP's behavioral and attitudinal trendlines.  Trendlines that make this election cycle's GOP look very much like the failing Democratic Party of years past.

Bear with me for a second as I supply you a little bit of background.  You see, there are two types of trendwatchers in the industry: those who obsess over micro-trends in product and media consumption, and those who observe more general shifts in consumer attitudes and behaviors across generational, gender, ethnic and other lines.

A micro-trend watcher obsesses over sales data for each brand against each other brand in various industries across market segment lines.  In politics, a micro-trend watcher carefully details demographic shifts in district after district and watches each poll with a close eye.  A political micro-trend watcher is the kind of person you want gerrymandering your districts for you.

I myself am among the latter; as a qualitative researcher, I specialize in the socio-political and consumer trends of the X and Millennial generations, and their impacts on society and the market as a whole.  As a specialist in this area, one has to be intimately involved with object of your study, and understand on a more basic level how behavioral and attitude shifts are occurring.  It's qualitative, rather than quantitative--and as such, it's an inexact science.  And yet, if you get it right, you can gain far more real insight than any micro-trend watcher can give you.

Now to my point: I've been watching politics very closely over the past long while, and I can tell you with supreme confidence that the macro-trends look very bad for the GOP.  

Yes, the polls also look bad for them--but the polls have deceived us before.  I don't trust polls--or any other quantitative data.  But I DO trust macro-trend analysis of attitudes and behaviors--and they give me great reason to hope this election cycle.

And the macro-trends I have observed put the Republicans in exactly the same position Democrats have been in for years.  Here are just a few:

1.  No Nationalized Message.  In previous years, it was the Dems who lacked a coherent national message.  Every issue was sui generis for us--on its own, unrelated to other issues.  Our messages on healthcare, abortion, foreign policy and every other issue were separate and disjointed.

Now, the Democratic message is simple and clear: Throw These Bums Out, Restore Sanity, and Work for the People instead of the Rich and Powerful.

the Republican message, meanwhile, is totally lost.  First it was supposed to be immigration and protecting the borders--but that only split their coalition.  Then it was "Save Us from Speaker Pelosi"--but nobody knew who she was.  Then it was TNT--Taxes and Terror--but then the American People stopped trusting them on terror.

Now their messaging is jumbled mess; some of them talk immigration, some talk Pelosi and "San Francisco values"; others still dare to talk about Bin Laden, while still others harp on taxes.  But there is no unity.  No coherent message for the Republicans.  The Democrats, meanwhile, have been rather good at beating the same drum again and again.  In short, they're playing by OUR framing for once, rather than the other way around.

2. Defending, Rather than Attacking.  Partly as a result of point #1 (and, of course, partly due to their horrid mismangement of the country), the GOP has found itself on Defense rather than on Offense on every framing debate this cycle.  Even their attacks are playing on our turf.  

Case in point: on my way through Central California's Kern Valley yesterday, I forced myself to flip through talk radio to get a sense of what people were saying on the ground on the GOP side.  No less than three different conservative stations were going on about cloning and Democratic disrespect for life.  Sean Hannity was interviewing Michael Steele about his sister with MS, and how Democrats don't care about life.

Why?  Because of the Michael J. Fox ad.  They're running petrified of it, and attempting to lambaste Dems on their own ground by talking about how evil emryonic research is.  But it won't work.  It didn't work for Dems in the past, and it won't work for the GOP today.

Another example of this is George Allen's latest smear on Webb.  Allen knows that one of Webb's strong suits is his upstanding character; most of even Allen's voters know that he's a bigoted scumbag.  So what does Allen do?  He says, "I know you are, but what am I?"  or "My opponent is just as big of a messed up, bigoted scumbag!"

Nice try, Felix.  But that doesn't work.  It never worked for us, and it's not going to work for you.

3.  Optimism  One of the GOP's longtime strong-suits has been their consistent messaging of sunny optimism.  Sure, they have always run vicious attack ads; but that has been complemented by a cheery can-do spirit that has appealed strongly to the American people--and made the Dems look like sourpusses by contrast.  Reagan showed it with his Morning in America campaign; Bush Senior didn't, and lost.  George W. Bush has it, for what it's worth.  Even George Allen has made it his trademark.  The Dems, by contrast, looked like shrewish scolds.

But now the GOP has essentially nothing but the politics of fear--and they've utterly lost ANY optimistic message they have.  Everything about the GOP this cycle is paternalistic, scolding, and sour.  Of all the GOP candidates, only Michael Steele in Maryland has run a consistently upbeat and positive campaign--and as a result, he's doing improbably well.  He still probably won't win, but it's a testament to the power of an optimistic campaign.

It is the Dems, meanwhile, who are providing the messages of change, hope and optimism.  It is the Dems who are running the positive campaigns--ABC News notwithstanding--while the GOP throws its mud far and wide.

And let me tell you: messages of change, hope and optimism win elections--regardless of what the polls say.

4.  The "Girly-Man" Factor.  There's no nice way around this: Strength Appeals to the American Voter.  Most American voters don't want to elect, in Ahnuld's words, "Girly-Men" to office.  Angelides is getting killed in the CA-Gov race because, quite frankly, he looks, acts and sounds like a wimp.

Now, it's certainly possible for a woman to look stronger than a man--but even those are trending OUR way.  Case in point: Claire McCaskill in Missouri, who looks like she could stare down Jim Talent into a corner without saying a word.

And in this election, the GOP candidates look soft and wimpy by and large--ours don't.  Look at the Fighting Dems.  Look at DeW(h)ine in Ohio versus Sherrod Brown.  Look at Jon Tester versus Conrad "my crazy grandpa" Burns in Montana.  Look at Jim Webb versus "Felix" Allen.  Whitehouse versus Chafee.  Eric "Mr. Bellows" Massa, for crying out loud.

In this election, WE have the strength--and even our women look like they have more balls than their men.

5.  Divided Coalition  Voters notice when a party seems to be in disarray.  It's a sign of weakness, and they don't trust it.

In years past, the Democrats have always looked just short of an implosion, as our various interest groups went at each others' throats for greater slices on an ever-shrinking pie.  But now, it seems that the GOP is ready for a full-scale implosion.  The rats are jumping ship, and the various elements of the coalition that make up the GOP's base are all blaming each other for the impending electoral disaster.

If journalists like Adam Nagourney were honest, and treated the GOP with anything but kid gloves, they'd be reporting on this every week.  They aren't--but the public can still sense it.

The Dems look united; the GOP looks fractured.  And the American people tack to strength--every time.


These are just a few examples.  I could go on and on about lesser trendlines and other issues.

The reasons for this change are numerous, and would be the subject of a whole other diary.  But the general idea is clear: the GOP is in serious trouble this election because their attitudes and behaviors are setting them up for defeat in greater margins than the polls would suggest.  Just as the same attitudes and behaviors doomed Democrats in previous election cycles.

Republicans, in short, are the new Democrats--attitudinally speaking.

And that is going to have a MAJOR impact that the poll-watchers and other micro-trend observers are not yet taking into account.

[Cross-posted from My Left Wing]


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