Wednesday, August 30, 2006

How to win elections

It is rare that I would write about the wisdom of James Carville and Paul Begula. They run something called the Democracy Corps and published a note today about the Virginia election and why James Kilgore did not win. Their suggestion - it comes down to a positive campaign, and mobilize your base. An addition is that the internet - much as it has been touted - at least for the 2005 election - is not a magic bullet. Carville was one of the authors of "It's the economy stupid" - While I do not agree with how he used the issue (I think he fell into the trap discussed below about optimism and pessimism) - the message is the right one.

Then comes something from the Democratic Strategist which frets about the democrat's alienation of the middle class. That idea has always been an elusive one. It certainly tripped up Jimmy Carter in his presidential race - where he wanted to increase taxes on all people above the median income. They have two suggestions which are powerful. First, think a bit more carefully about who the middle class really is. When one looks at all of the incomes in society one happy group. Indeed, if you look at the economy in those terms the median family income is about $45,000. But if you separate out the people who are most likely to work and contribute to society (29-59) the median jumps to $63,000. That is a big difference. The strategists also look at five key issues where the democrat message is not on track with the vast majority of voters. #1 - pessimism versus optimism. The American people are optimistic. 80% of the American people think it is possible to start and poor and end up rich. That is why the campaign to end the "death tax" was so profound. Pessimism implies passivity and helplessness. That is not where we are as a people. #2 - Economic decline v. strength. When 70% of the American people own their homes it is hard to convince them that we are in fundamental decline. #3 - Economic security versus individual opportunity - while this is not an absolute Americans want to be concerned with opportunity. Security is a good issue, opportunity is a better one. #4 - Most progressive ideas don't benefit the middle class - one need only look at the way the Alternative Minimum Tax has begun to hit those taxpayers. Pell grants - average $19,460 income. 2.7% of the employees in the country earn the minimum wage. #5 How to characterize the conservatives - is the problem big corporations or big government? 61% chose big government to 27% for big business. High percentages of workers like their jobs. Less than 25% of all Americans identified themselves as either upper or lower class - that is a very big middle.

Both threads are things which would help both parties be more successful with voters. They might also get us back on more important issues of public policy. In the end it might also reduce the role of spinmeisters in the political process. All of those trends would be positive.

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