Democrats Miss Chance to Tell Success Story

Democrats had a great story to tell, but they failed to tell it and lost their majority in the Senate. 

Democrats had a great story to tell, but they failed to tell it and lost their majority in the Senate. 

Republicans nearly swept all competitive Senate races to take control of the Senate. In the House, the GOP majority enlarged to 243 members, giving Republicans the biggest majority since Harry Truman – and, as returns are still tabulated, possibly the biggest majority since 1930. So the results are clear. What's less clear is how Democrats flubbed in telling their story.

Why did Democrats run away from arguably some of the most compelling domestic successes for which they could claim a share of responsibility?

In any other decade, if I were to tell you:

  • The stock market has more than doubled and continues to push all-time highs;

  • Gas prices have plummeted to the lowest level in a decade;

  • The country is closer to energy independence than at any time in 40 years;

  • Unemployment has fallen from 10 percent to less than 6 percent;

  • Crime is relatively low; and

  • Welfare, food stamps and unemployment benefits are quickly coming back to normal levels, you would think that the economy was moving in the right direction.

Add to this, the number of uninsured has fallen from 18 percent before the Affordable Care Act was implemented to 13.4 percent and budget deficits have been cut by two-thirds from $1.5 trillion to $500 billion. This seems like an incredible record to run on.

While the Obama Administration and Senate Democrats can't take credit for all of these indicators, it's dumbfounding that they would not scream these figures from the rooftops. Nearly every economic indicator suggests our country is heading in the right direction, yet no politician seems to have the guts to say it.

Why is that? The counter-argument to touting these numbers is you don't want to seem out of touch and a lot of Americans are still hurting. By referencing these positive numbers, it could highlight that one doesn't understand the obstacles that average Americans are facing on a daily basis. That is certainly true and Democrats could have qualified these messages by saying more needs to be done. However, ignoring these positive indicators seems like political malpractice.

By and large, Democrats ran on increasing the minimum wage and gender equality — and ran away from the President who was their partner in achieving economic and social policy success.

Looking back, it seems like these two issues pale in comparison to what could have been an extremely powerful message. Democrats won't be able to say two years from now, "We told you so," because they didn't.

Political Nanotargeting

Many people think of politics as a lot of hot air. It turns out politics may be more like rocket science.

Since the 2004 George W. Bush presidential campaign, Republican and Democratic political strategists have been using nanotargeting to reach and activate their political bases. To target ads, operatives pore over voting histories, housing values, recreational preferences, automobile ownership, TV viewership as well as favorite restaurants, drinks and websites.

Who knew that your zest for Arby's or the number of bedrooms in your home could drop hints about your political leanings?

In a recent piece in The New York Times, Thomas Edsall, a professor of journalism at Columbia University, probes this intensifying segmentation — and polarization — of the American electorate. Here are some tips Edsall offers in spotting stereotypical Republicans and Democrats:

  • Someone who reads The Washington Post or watches the Comedy Channel is more likely to be a Democrat. People who reads The Wall Street Journal or watches Country Music Television or the Golf Channel are probably Republicans.

  • Among the top 10 favorite TV shows of Republicans are "The Office," "The Big Bang Theory," "Desperate Housewives" and "The Biggest Loser."  Democrats prefer "Late Show with David Letterman," "PBS NewsHour," "House of Payne" and "60 Minutes."

  • McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's appeal to the political middle. You can spot the Republicans eating at Macaroni Grill, Outback Steakhouse, Arby's and Chick-fil-A, while the Democrats chow down at Popeye's, Dunkin' Donuts and Chuck E. Cheese.

  • The Democratic drinks of choice are cognac or Budweiser. Republicans favor light beers, Guinness and scotch.

  • Don't look for GOP presidential ads on "30 Rock" or Democratic ads on professional football games this fall.

Clearly these are generalized views of American political sympathies. But they are the basis for making critical, make-or-break advertising choices. As Edsall notes, "Incremental shifts among key constituencies — Hispanics, single white working class women and private-sector unionized employees — can be decisive."