Optimist at Large
People are complex. Voters are people. Voters are complex. But in order to appeal to voters aka complex and sometimes self-contradictory persons; a Candidate cannot be real, complex person. Candidates are simplified (meme-ified?) versions of people that in theory represent portions of a large nation and at the very least a significant bloc of persons. They are processed by taking pieces of their actual personality and beliefs and then those are filtered and disseminated through the media by their campaign manager in order to maximize their appeal and minimize their antagonistic qualities. The appeal of any candidate for a national public office is going to be driven by two major factors: their physical appearance and their alignment on wedge issues. Elections are games; the winners win, because they have manipulated the voting population and their candidacy to give themselves the best chance of winning. On Election Day, the actual Principles (capital P) become irrelevant and only winning matters.
The first part of the game is to establish the parameters; the long game and current focus is establishing the voting population. The people who voted in the 2014 are not the people who will vote in the 2016 election. This is why the Republican Party has worked so hard to restrict voting rights in Democratic leaning battleground states. They are laying the groundwork and will continue to bring in voter ID laws in order to narrow the voting population to favor the demographically favorable groups of persons that are most likely to favor their party when it comes to Election Day. The not-so-ulterior motives and hypocrisy behind all this legislation crystallize with the following two anecdotes: in Texas there are 7 forms of ID that will allow someone to vote (a permit to carry concealed handguns qualifies, while an ID card supplied by a college or university does not) and in the United States there have been 31 incidents of potential voter fraud out of over a billion ballots cast. Further examination of the latter anecdote will also uncover the fact that thousands of votes have been left uncounted due to a lack of appropriate picture identification or any photo identification at all. On a numbers basis then, these voter ID laws are more likely to be discounting votes from legitimate voters than preventing illegitimate votes from being counted. The existence of voter ID laws presuppose that a person’s right to vote does not have anything to do with their citizenship or lack of felonious behavior, but rather that they choose to not drive (who can blame em?), carry a concealed handgun, or leave the country. At its core, the argument is old and comes down to what we mean by representative democracy. The Peoples’ House will soon represent a minority (33%) of the voting public, which itself is a minority (36%) of its people. Should voting really be made harder?
Another long-term play to potentially manipulate the voting population came on November 20th, 2014; when President Obama proposed an Executive Action that may provide a path to citizenship for the undocumented immigrant population.
Immigrants who have been here for more than five years and have children who are U.S. citizens or legal residents—would have to register with the government, pass a criminal-background check, and pay their taxes, including fines for late payment. In return, they would be allowed to stay in the country and work legally. They wouldn’t get citizenship, or permanent residency, or access to “the same benefits that citizens receive”—i.e., no health-care subsidies—but they would no longer face the threat of being deported. — John Cassidy of The New Yorker
Not only would they avoid deportation, but when they eventually gain citizenship, the cynical view would have them rewarding their savior with their votes. With control of the House and Senate, the opportunity exists for the Republican Party or even a potential Republican presidential candidate to attach their self to or drive forward a bill that addresses these concerns as well. But President Obama has personally stamped the driving force for any future action or bill with Blue ink.
In the spirit of a more representative democracy, Bernie Sanders has proposed that Election Day become a federal holiday. If this were to pass, turnout would increase, people would be given the opportunity to take ownership of their citizenship and be able to claim a candidate that would represent their interests at the local, state and national levels. What would be more democratic than that?
The second part of the game is to establish the importance of a few issues and the position of the meme-ified/simplified person aka the Candidate on those issues. The Candidate should play this as if it were online dating, they need to be attractive enough for someone to swipe right and then they need to be aligned with a plurality of voters on a few significant issues while being inoffensive or outright vague (it doesn’t matter) on issues where there might be potential conflict.
What Buzzfeed (and online dating) have shown is that the basis for clicks (votes) is approval of or a positive relationship to the subject, idea, issue, or listicle. The cynical view would be that a non-significant amount of the Republican support during the 2012 election and the Democratic support during the 2004 election was not approval of the candidates but disapproval of the other candidates. Taking viewpoint of the New Sincerity, people generally interact (vote) because voting should be an endorsement of the candidate, rather than a critique of the other candidate. It can be inferred from the current trends in voter turnout that most people do not feel like they can endorse any candidate. In 2008, Barack Obama took advantage of this general malaise and took the stance that he was new blood and wanted to reform a system that was in dire need of it (“Change we can believe in”). This populist stance was a response to the apathy (demonstrated through absentia) that the American public had towards the national government, its lack of effectiveness and relativity. Now that it has been used and there is not a substantial platform of demonstrated effectiveness and reform for a non-existent successor to stand on, this mantra can’t be re-used. (Is the political system beyond repair? No, it is never beyond repair.) What is a stance that a candidate could run on and would successfully appeal to the current minority that actually votes and the potentially larger voting age and eligible population in 2016?
Looking at the recent polls regarding Americans’ priorities for the new Congress, it seems that it would be best for a potential Candidate to avoid acting as a roadblock towards the current healthcare reforms nor towards potential immigration reform (especially if the United States would like to avoid becoming an East Asian country (though one could make a justification based upon the potential changes in demographics to the voting population)). The Candidate needs to reform an issue for which the change leads to a measurable, positive result for the voting population. It would seem that with some foresight, the winning candidate will end up being first/strongest to take a populist stance to counteract the “Great Wage Stagnation“, by reducing taxes for everyone except for the highest tax bracket. The new deficit that would be created could be compensated for through an increase of tax rate on the highest tax bracket (a powerful minority, but still a small number of people), closing a few tax loopholes only used by the wealthy (charitable donations, carried interest, capital gains), and/or creating a new highest tax bracket (the 1%) with a tax rate to match. In addition this hypothetical, populist Candidate should support raising the minimum wage at the federal level (90% of Democrat and 53% of Republican voters supported raising the minimum wage from 7.25 to 10.10 per hour). The Candidate should also eschew the issues of abortion, who will be up at 3 AM, Israel/the Middle East, and terrorism in general. It’s not that these issues aren’t important or that there isn’t an appropriately calibrated stance, but they are hot-button type issues that require carefully considered words. This set of issues requires calibration to and constant sensitivity towards the temperament of the voters (remember, they are complex) and are the primary source of Kinsley gaffes (“legitimate rape”, “the 47%”, “binders full of women”, a Moonbase, etc).
The winning Candidate should: pick an issue that resonates with a substantial portion of the voting populace, enhance their strength on the issue, avoid negatives on other issues, avoid saying stupid things, make sure that the voting populace that they are trying to appeal to, can actually vote, and then pick an issue that resonates with a substantial portion of the voting populace and around and around we go….