...and Republicans drink bourbon. Did you know that? If you were a Republican campaign strategist, you would. And if you want to be a Democratic strategist, you should too.
According to this LA Times article, the Republican Party is light years ahead of their Democratic counterparts at targeting its core voters and tailoring its message to them. The Republicans are efficient. They don’t waste a lot of time, effort or money going after voters to whom they are never going to appeal. And despite the “Big Tent” crap, they don’t usually put their expensive ad campaigns and Get Out the Vote efforts into New York’s inner cities or Beverly Hills’ gated communities.
Back to the gin and bourbon. It makes perfect sense. Bourbon is more popular in the South – think Jack Daniels and George Dickel. And the South, demographically, is more receptive to the Republican Party’s message. Gin, on the other hand, is traditionally favored by urban blue collar voters, the Democrats’ core constituency. Marketers know this. So should Democratic political operatives. They should also know the other buying and consuming habits of their core Democratic voters, the better to target them and tailor their message to them.
Republicans, for instance, know that Republicans-leaning voters are more apt to buy Fords while Democrats purchase Volvos. People interested in military history tend to be more socially conservative.
All this information on marketing habits is there for the taking. Republicans have just utilized that knowledge more effectively than Democrats have in identifying their core voters and getting out their message to them.
But, according to this article, we are finally catching up.
And here’s another positive sign that Democrats may be getting serious about winning elections.
According to this story in yesterday's Washington Post, a group of wealthy liberal Democrats have agreed to contribute $80 million over a five-year period to fund some new liberal think tanks. These wealthy liberals are pledging their own money and also promising to get their friends to donate so they can set up a web of new policy shops to compete with older, more established conservative groups, such as The Heritage Foundation, The American Enterprise Institute, and The Hoover Foundation, which have been funneling ideas and policies to the Republican Party for decades.
This is not only good news; it's long overdue!
For at least several decades, the Republicans have been reaming Democrats with a plethora of policies and ideas while Democrats have struggled from campaign cycle to campaign cycle just to define themselves. And the one thing we hear constantly from voters, despite our efforts, is that they don’t know where our candidates stand on issues.
Whether it’s actually true or not, these voters perceive Republicans, such as George Bush, as strong minded candidates who stand up for what they believe. In last year’s presidential race, the public viewed Bush not as stubborn or arrogant, but as honest and principled. On the other hand, they saw John Kerry as wishy-washy and weak. And worse, they thought that he’d say anything to get elected. And voters claimed they didn't know where he stood on the major issues.
Part of this, of course, was due to the poor campaign run by his managers who were not quick enough to end attacks against their candidate. The Republican Party and their conservative allies spent a lot of money to paint an untrue picture of Kerry’s character. But Shrum, Devine and Cahill certainly made the Republicans' job easier by not answering those attack ads rapidly enough.
But Democrats have got to face the truth that they are better at telling the public what they oppose than they are at saying what it is they stand for. And that does make them look negative and whiny.
A more effective strategy would be to state what it is they oppose in the Republicans' platform and then to follow that with statements of what they would do instead if they were elected.These contrast and compare ads are more effective than totally negative attack ads because they criticize the Republican opponent and also give voters a reason to vote for the Democratic candidate instead.
A well done contrast and compare ad that attacks one’s opponent and offers a better position on the issues, or a better candidate, is a very effective campaign strategy. And having surrogate groups to do your negative attacks also is effective, as the Republicans have proven.
However, strategy with no new ideas won’t win elections. It’s like any other ad campaign that depends on style with no substance. People eventually catch on and stop buying your product no matter how clever your ad campaign. Products like Alka-Seltzer, which tanked even though their ads consistently won awards for originality, prove that even the best ad campaign a marketer can come up with is no substitute for a quality product when it comes to actually selling your goods to the public.
Although creating think tanks, encouraging scholars to come up with great policy statements, and finding fresh ideas are all part of the solution, Democrats also have to know how to market their message.
To compete effectively in elections we’ve got to have fresh ideas, sound policy, a coherent and consistent message and the means to get it out to an audience that we have effectively targeted as receptive to our ideas.
And we have got to get competitive with Republicans so that voters have a real choice and real Americans, once again, have a chance to realize the American Dream that has been slowly slipping away from us under the Bush Administration.