Monday, August 22, 2005

New Democracy Corps Study

Democracy Corps has released a new study based on focus group results of red State Bush voters, their views on the current Republican majority, and their perceptions of the Democrats, as well as what their priorities are in government. Armando and Ed Kilgore of the DLC react to the findings at DailyKos:
Again the notion of the cultural divide as the great obstacle to Democratic electoral success rears its head. And yet, the idea that going to voters who went for Bush 4-1 in 2004 and expecting anything else seems strange to me. Are these swing voters?

While in one sense this observation should be obvious that these people may represent a group of voters who Democrats should not bother to court. Though in another sense Armando misses a couple of points here. It can tell us a lot about our failure to win elections by looking at people who are consistantly voting for Republicans, and seeing how they view American politics. This can tell us a lot about framing, and can allow us to see if we can reach a wider range of voters than just the 10% swing voters who are argued over in every election. Something went drastically wrong in 2004, we managed to lose an election where all the world events seemed in favor of Democrats. An incumbent President who had lost more jobs than Herbert Hoover, a failure to even address spiraling health care costs, a pointless war that we were lead to on lies in Iraq, the list goes on and on. And yet, we managed to lose the Presidency and Congressional seats (though excluding Texas jerrymandering Democrats made minor gains in the House, as it was Democrats had minor losses in the House). Understanding joe Republican may be something very critical for Democrats to do at this stage in the game.

Armando gets into the meat of DemocracyCorps conclusion.
The Republican Party can fairly be labelled the Party of Dobson, called to heel by the Radical Right. In my estimation, voters who feel as described by the study are NOT fertile ground for our voters. We should NOT trim our social message on a fool's errand. If we get those voters, it will be because of other parts of our message, and trimming won't change their views on the social issues or make them forget where we stand.

We need to embrace proudly our commitment to civil rights, women's rights, economic justice, equal protection under the law, the right to privacy.

We are for these not because we are serving special interests. African-Americans are not special interests. Women are not special interests. The working class is not a special interest. These are Americans. Who deserve a fair shake.

This is right on the money, Democrats cannot afford to start shifting rightward on the right to choose on abortion, or the rights of gay couples to be entitled to equal partnership benefits as straight couples. We can never represent hard right values on these issues better than the Republicans unless we made up our minds to completely sacrifice our values to become even more conservative than Republicans on these issues. This is the major flaw with the kinds of arguments that groups such as the DLC tend to make, they constantly seek a middle ground that simply does not exist.

Kilgore's remarks in truth differ little from Armando's and while I would highly recommend reading the post, his statements are not really worth using valuable space and time for.

There seemed to be a perception here that Democrats are "for" abortion, this is nothing more than a simple framing problem here, and much of the problems that emerge in this study are framing problems.

Democrats are percieved as being "against" religion, "for" abortion, "for" "the gays." People aren't really thinking in terms of the broader principles here that Democratic positions on these issues represent. Therefore, (this should be obvious) Democrats need to be a lot smarter about the language they use. The problem here is not the position itself, as frustration with the Republican tendancy to try to run individuals lives is apparent:
Republicans seem to cave into the religious right, to the point that they promote state rights but throw all that out the window and get involved in Terri Schiavo.
(Denver, younger college men)

Democrats need to talk about "choice," not "abortion." As Kos has noted numerous times, "everybody hates abortion." If the Democrats are the Party of Abortion everywhere they will lose consistantly, because abortion is terrible, but the belief that abortion is terrible does not distract from the view that women deserve the right to make that decision themselves. It seems that (assuming these voters really do represent Joe Redstate Voter) in rural America Democrats are percieved as "The Party of Abortion" while in more Democratic leaning districts the issue is viewed more in terms of choice than the procedure itself. Choice is huge, Clinton's 1993 Universal Health Care proposal failed because of the perception that it would limit choice. This one can work for anybody if used right. Democrats need to avoid the basic topics of abortion and gay marriage in rural red America, instead the focus should be on the larger values of choice or (in the case of gay marriage) equality. When someone asks about abortion Democrats should answere honestly, but without the complexity that we saw Kerry answere with in the debates. The correct answer is not:
I'm personally against abortion, but don't feel it is my role to legislate that belief for other people.

That answere makes the candidate look pro-abortion. The correct answer to abortion questions is this:
I believe in choice, people have the right to make personal decisions without the government interfering in what is a personal matter. Republicans want to limit your choice, they want government to tell you who you can have intimate relationships with (see Republican reaction to Lawrence v. Texas). they would even prevent married couples from using contraceptives (see Santorum on Griswold v. Connecticut and John Roberts on the "so called right to privacy")

Democrats should frame themselves as pro-choice, and Republicans as anti-choice, it removes the issue of abortion from the equation, and puts the discussion on the larger principles that voters agree with Democrats on. The same can be done for any issue, gay marriage is about equal rights and treating everyone the same way. Thus removing what we all know the red State frame of gay marriage is (even though it did not appear in the Democracy Corps focus groups), "the gays want 'special rights.'" Don't talk directly about gay marriage/civil unions at all, talk about those issues in terms of the larger concept of "equal rights."

Perhaps the greatest lesson to be learned from this study is that everything must apply personally and close to home. The Iraq war needs to be discussed in terms of local lives changed and lost because of this pointless war. Don't talk about lost jobs nationally, talk about the weakness of the local economy, don't talk about health care in a vaccuum, make sure the voters empathize with the issue and put the problem and solution close to them. Democrats should be able to cut into this mis-framing of them by effective and aggressive counter-framing as well as offering a clear and precise counter agenda. Without these Democrats will face another 2004 in 2006 where voters are clearly dissatisfied but vote the same old bastards back to their seats where they can continue to wage total war on Americas most basic values.

1 comment:

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