I was chatting with some liberal friends last night about why the Democrats keep trying to go more center-right, which alienates their fans and doesn’t win them any converts. The truth is, the Democrats and their policies have enough support amongst voters. But they fail at two things: first, they don’t get the base fired up enough to actually vote, and second, they actually confuse and discourage the base when they start sounding more like Republicans, which leads to even fewer people bothering to vote Democrat. Why are they shooting themselves in the foot this way?
I think the Democrats are like that TV network that has a huge number of people watching a given show, but they focus entirely on the few people who aren’t watching. They start changing the show to try to bring those people in, and all that happens is they alienate existing viewers. This happens frequently in TV, and it’s incredibly short-sighted, but it seems to spring from a basic flaw in human psychology: we focus on what we don’t have. The Democrats think they don’t have enough voters, so they must convert Republicans. But they don’t even aim intelligently for marginalized Republicans (women, gays, people of color) who at least might have some misgivings about voting GOP. They are aiming for old white dudes who only have a few more elections on this planet anyway. And who are never, ever going to convert.
There is a better way to “grow the audience” and bring in those big numbers. It’s what the GOP has been doing for years: keep preaching to the choir. It keeps the choir energized (gets them out to vote) and the sheer volume of the rhetoric makes them sound like a majority whether they are or not.A few years ago when I started The Hathor Legacy, I thought it was important to engage with anti-feminist commenters who accused me of ignoring anyone who didn’t agree with me and hating men and so on. For years, I confused my actual audience by trying to reach the anti-feminists on their level. Over time, I finally wised up: anti-feminists don’t convert. They were just using my blog to preach to one another. So I made a new rule for the Hathor staff: from now on, we deleted any comment that didn’t ultimately support equal rights. Feminists disagree with each other all the time, so there was still plenty of debate about how to achieve equal rights, there just wasn’t any more debate about whether to achieve equal rights. And that’s where we found our real audience.
The Democrats need to look carefully at the polls that reflect what liberals care about, and then get on those topics and stay on message. Remind us what they’ve accomplished and detail how they’re going to accomplish more. Listen to their base and engage with them when they complain or ask for something the party isn’t doing. Focus on liberals, not on conservatives. Except, when the Republicans spout complete and utter bullshit, as they increasingly do these days, the Democrats need to call them on it.
They also need to be focusing on Millennials, who now have enough in common with Gen X that the same strategies should work on both generations. Millennials want to hear how on earth they’re going to pay their own way in life, get health insurance, maybe buy homes and start families. They do not like anti-anybody agendas, so they’re already turned off to an extent by the GOP. The Democrats just need to emphasize that they have solutions to these problems, and then the GOP yapping about abortion and gun rights and the “war on Christians” would sound even more irrelevant and ludicrous than they are.