Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Proximity Politics

The things I've learned over the last two years could probably fill two books, but one of the most significant lessons was the importance of "Proximity Politics" in local elections.  Like many other complex systems, there are dozens of moving and overlapping parts that will determine an election:

Political Party
Name recognition
Policy preferences
Etc. etc. etc.

But as I've said before, the first objective of a campaign is to communicate a message.  The second objective is to make it stick.  And that's where "Proximity Politics" comes into play.  What can you offer the voter in terms of real, near-tactile outcomes if you are elected?  How will their life change?  Lofty goals serve no purpose here.  Where's the beef?

Republicans have far out-executed Democrats on this score, locally, state-wide, and at the federal level.  David Leonhart wrote a great Op-Ed for the New York Times regarding the failure of the Democratic party to "sell" their platform for helping middle class families and the likelihood of a electorate otherwise inclined to elect Democrats choosing instead to give Republicans a chance at the wheel:

The Democratic Party fashions itself as the defender of working families, and low- and middle-income voters are indeed more favorably disposed to Democrats than to Republicans. Those voters have helped the party win the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. But if Democrats can’t deliver rising living standards, many voters aren’t going to remain loyal. They’ll skip voting or give a chance to Republicans who offer an alternative, even a vague alternative.

On the state-level, Republicans were able to use Proximity Politics to make the argument that Marylanders have been over-taxed and treated like a bottom-less ATM machine.  As much as I hate it, "Rain Tax" is a devastating semantic weapon.  How many times did you hear "They even taxed the rain"?  (No, they didn't.)  In pressing these points, Republicans were able to communicate their underlying message, which can be summed up in the line "Vote Republican, it's less taxing."  I jokingly asked a friend yesterday, "So now that Hogan's been elected, does that mean I'll make more money?"  While I said that as a joke, and am not all that sure any more money will end up in my pocket due to a Hogan Governorship, that message made it through the muck and stayed with me even when I didn't want the candidate to win.

On the local-Howard-County-level, Allan Kittleman seemed to present Proximity Politics best with "HoCoStat".  I wasn't able to sit down and pay attention to this idea long enough to really understand what it meant, but I presume it is a replication of Maryland's StateStat (Gasp, O'Malley's policies brought to Howard County!).  That is a promise you can touch.  It will change the way you personally experience local government.  If you feel local issues are too opaque or complex (as even the wonkiest of wonks would agree), an Allan Kittleman administration will fix that.

Constructs of ideology don't stand a chance against these examples of concrete changes to voters' lives, even when it may be something very few actually use (alas, County government has not yet reached the popularity it deserves).  And admittedly, these tactics only matter when voters are paying enough attention to make a "choice".  Blind party votes were made last Tuesday, but persuadeables determined the outcome.

With all this in mind, it is clearly the Democratic party that can learn the most about how to improve their message.  How are you going to improve the lives of citizens?  And when you do, how are you going to make sure voters know ?  If your response includes the words "safer", "better educated", or "cleaner environment", you still haven't learned.   Give them something they can touch.

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!