Tuesday, November 16, 2004

More Details on Running Up the Score

In an earlier post, I noted that the President increased his relative share of the popular vote between 2000 and 2004 in 35 out of the 51 electoral contests. For example, he ran better in New York against Kerry by about 7 percentage points compared to how he ran against Gore. I hypothesized that the Bush-Cheney campaign actively sought a better showing the popular vote, in addition to a majority of the electoral college.

Via Powerline, I see that Patrick Ruffini has returned to his blog after being the Bush-Cheney '04 webmaster. His post today is excellent reading on how the popular vote shifted in many areas that would surprise the casual observer. This map shows, on a county-by-county basis, where the President improved his popular vote showing. As Patrick writes:

While not enough to shift any states into the Bush column, President Bush’s marked improvement along the Northeast Corridor lays a strong foundation for their return, one or two elections hence, into full-fledged battleground status. This development also lays waste to the notion of evangelical “values voters” being solely responsible for the President’s popular vote margin.

The key question for the Democrats is whether they understand this point--that they cannot ascribe their electoral failure in 2004 to only a set of "values voters." They should be thinking more broadly about where they lost ground.

Patrick also links to a very informative post by Robert David Sullivan, who has devised a map of the U.S. with 10 political regions of roughly equal population. It is the best commentary on the 2004 election (based on changes since 2000) that I have seen and offers interesting suggestions about where each party might look to gain ground in the 2008 campaign.


LRose said...

For one thing, it is time to stop losing elections by running with the promise of a tax increase. The heck with deficit mongering. For another, the heck with the youth vote. Go after older households. Social Security and Medicare slicing should have been constant themes. Want to live like a Republican, vote Democratic!

LRose said...


Why the Democrats Need to Stop Thinking About Elephants

If George Lakoff had his way, the Kerry campaign would have run a commercial attacking the "baby tax." Dr. Lakoff, a Berkeley linguistics professor and Kerry campaign adviser, wanted to divide the interest on the national debt by the number of Americans born each year. The result, $85,000 per newborn, say, would have been handed to a baby in the form of a bill, and the baby would have started to cry. That, Dr. Lakoff says, "frames" the issue "in a way people can understand."

"Framing" is a hot topic among political junkies and in the blogo-sphere right now, thanks to Dr. Lakoff. In "Don't Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate," his surprise best seller, Dr. Lakoff argues that Republicans have been winning elections because they have been better than Democrats at framing issues - from taxes, to abortion, to national security - in ways that resonate with core American values.

Dr. Lakoff has been stepping out of the classroom lately to lecture everyone from the Senate Democratic caucus to "living wage" advocates on how to use linguistics to craft a more effective message. "Framing" alone won't give the Democrats the White House, or the Senate and House. But Dr. Lakoff's theories offer the Democrats a road map for going forward.

The title "Don't Think of an Elephant!" comes from a classic experiment Dr. Lakoff conducts in Cognitive Science 101. He tells his students not to think of an elephant, and he has yet to find one who has managed it. Thinking about elephants is the frame, and negating it simply reinforces it. This was the problem, he says, with President Richard Nixon's famous declaration, "I am not a crook."

Trying not to think of elephants, Dr. Lakoff suggests, sums up the Democrats' plight. Since Republicans have framed the key issues, Democrats cannot avoid being on the losing side. Take taxes. Republicans have succeeded in framing the issue as "tax relief," a metaphor that presents an affliction, and that predetermines who are the heroes - tax opponents - and villains. Taxes are, of course, necessary even for programs Republicans back, like the military, and simple economics dictates that we cannot keep cutting taxes and maintaining spending forever. But the Democrats are hard-pressed to make these points once the frame is "tax relief."

It is not by accident that "tax relief" presents taxes in moral terms, as a calamity in search of a cure. Values, Dr. Lakoff argues, are the key to framing campaign issues. Democrats have an unfortunate tendency, he says, to see campaigns as product launches, believing that if they roll out a candidate with the best features, or positions on issues, voters will support him. Republicans understand that people vote their identity, not their self-interest - that they seek out candidates whose values appear to match their own.

After the election, pundits made much of the influence of a few "moral" issues, like gay marriage and abortion, on the outcome. But Dr. Lakoff argues that values play an important role in almost every campaign issue. The Republicans' success has been driven in large part, he argues, by their ability to frame less morally charged subjects in terms of core values. He is impressed by a line from President Bush's last State of the Union address: that we do not need a "permission slip" to defend America. It reframed multilateralism, once a widely accepted foreign policy principle, as weakness and national infantilization.

As Dr. Lakoff sees it, Democrats need to start framing issues in terms of their own values, which, he insists, are no less popular with the American people than the Republicans' values. This project will, however, take more than spin and sloganeering. On many subjects, he argues, the Democrats suffer from what he calls "hypocognition" - more simply, a lack of ideas. Republicans have been working for the past 40 years, since the defeat of Barry Goldwater, in well-financed think tanks, on developing conservative ideas that voters will rally around. The Democrats, he says, need to start catching up.

JELyon said...

It'd be great if the Democrats would nominate candidates with Elvis, ala Bill Clinton, rather than a succession of dull grey men. Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, Kerry... when will we learn?

Nominate a dynamic candidate, and more states will be in play. Top generously with a dynamic message and crisp framing, and we're in like Flynn.