It Wasn't Religion That Harmed The Dems, But A Failure To Communicate
Thanks to PollingReport.com for the graphic
Right, Democrats lost the election last month because we’re not religious enough.
Sorry, but no sale. The conventional wisdom in the aftermath of the election was that a tidal wave of religious, “moral values” voters swept George W. Bush back into office, and that the electorate was wanting more religion in its political life. Spare me.
The CBS News/NYT poll taken just two weeks after the election shows that a majority of voters are more concerned that public officials will pay too much attention to religion, not too little.
Democrats lost for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that we got sucked into a strategy of taking scores of states off the board by only competing in battleground states. This was a big mistake, one that Bush didn’t follow. Democrats need to compete everywhere, and go into red states and challenge red state voters to think about why they continue to vote for GOP officials who pander to them on moral issues while they bludgeon them economically. Democrats needed to spend more time in winnable border states like North Carolina, Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, and Virginia, instead of getting sucked into the costly morass of Florida.
And yes, Democrats need to learn how to stop talking at red state voters, and start talking with them. And as much as I hate to admit it, it is hard to get over that hump in red states when you are a Senator from Massachusetts.
Lastly, Democrats need to understand that there are millions of people in this country who like to lead a simple life where values and faith mean much more than complex issues, who want to be left alone, and who expect very little from their government. That doesn’t mean that these voters are stupid or uninformed, but it does mean that their priorities and how you reach them is different than voters on the coasts who want more from their government and expect more from their politicians. Again, this difference doesn’t make the voters on the coasts any better, but they see things differently and accept complexity.
The best way to explain this is to remember your college psychology and think about Maslow’s ladder of human needs as a way to understand how to motivate people. Maslow argued that before trying to motivate people, it was important to understand that different people will be motivated in different ways based on their needs level.
Because of economic hardship and the climate of fear and victimhood stoked by the GOP, many people are still living their lives at a lower, more basic level of human needs, where safety and security, as well as order and consistency are paramount. It will be hard to reach these folks about things like health care, the environment, and other complex issues, and to challenge them on Bush’s integrity when their main priority is security, safety, protection, and the reinforcement that they are moral people whose problems are the fault of liberals.
Democrats nationalize their message, as if one size fits all, when in fact messages need to be tailored to different parts of the country and the needs of folks everywhere. It is an easier job for the GOP, because they base their whole campaign on appealing to a right wing, much narrower swath of voters who crave simplicity, absolutes, and can be manipulated much easier because of their more basic level of needs. Democrats on the other hand want to talk about policy without addressing values and who is really debasing our culture. Democrats need to engage red state voters by talking with them about their priorities and how they are being harmed by those in whom they place their faith, while aiming their message at folks all along the needs ladder. As such, until they can calibrate their message to different audiences in different parts of the country, they will continue to have red state difficulties. And it has less to do with religion that people think.