Monday, June 04, 2007

Why Do Democrats Think Like We Do About Campaigns?

Drew Westin, a professor from Atlanta, has written a book called The Political Brain. In this book, he argues that Democrats insist on campaigning as if voters respond to political arguments on an intellectual basis. He has a recent article in the American Prospect about gun control. Here is an excerpt from that article:

The vision of mind that has captured the imagination of Democratic strategists for much of the last 40 years -- a dispassionate mind that makes decisions by weighing the evidence and reasoning to the most valid conclusions -- bears no relation to how the mind and brain actually work. When strategists start from this vision of mind, their candidates typically lose.

Democrats typically bombard voters with laundry lists of issues, facts, figures, and policy positions, while Republicans offer emotionally compelling appeals, whether to voters' values, principles, or prejudices. As a result, we have seen only one Democrat elected and reelected to the White House since Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Bill Clinton, who, like Roosevelt, understood how to connect with voters emotionally) and only one Republican fail to do so (George Bush Senior, who ran like a Democrat and paid for it).

Now, the question that Westin doesn't answer in this article is why Democrats think like they do when it comes to political arguments. Why do Democratic consultants adopt the dispassionate mind model while Republicans, according to Westin, adopt the emotional mind model?

Part of the answer may come from the fact that Republicans are a lot more willing to use business advertising techniques than Democrats. This may come from the fact that Republicans are more familiar or comfortable with business than Democrats.

If you think about business advertising, especially TV advertising, very little is about giving you information on which to make a rational decision. Most of it is designed to invoke a particular emotional response. This is done by identifying the product being advertised with sex, love, warmth, manliness, womanliness, wealth, success, and so on.

Think about memorable political ads. Probably the ones you remember most are the ads that invoked a particular emotional response, not ads that presented a factually compelling argument.

What Democratic candidates should do is start using ad agencies that do primarily business ads and stop using agencies that do primarily political ads.


bonobo said...

To understand this, I'd start from this position:

Republicans are disdainful of government, but love politics.

Democrats are disdainful of politics, but love government.

The rest of it pretty much flows.

kmj said...

Probably, the cultural orientation of the parties today has something to do with this situation as well. The core of liberal professionals within the Democratic Party responds more readily to Adlai Stevenson- and Barack Obama-types than to those in the mold of Tip O'Neil and Wesley Clark, for example. Conservative themes are more easily packaged in "Mom and Apple Pie" and "Red, White, and Blue" rhetoric. The big cultural change within the Democratic organization since the late '60s has likely prevented earthier, more down-home Democrats from rising to the top.