Monday, October 17, 2005

What's the definition of "works"?

Mike Shear writes in the Post today about the tenor of the campaigning in the Virginia governor's race. Citing interviews with "more than two dozen teachers, business owners, college students and homemakers across the state last week," the Post said that " Virginians said they felt inundated by the barrage of ads and unmoved by their messages."

Quoting four women, the Post story went on:

Karen Hudson, 48, of Tazewell called it "mudslinging" and said she is disappointed. Suffolk banker Linda Bradshaw, 32, said she hates the "bashing." Kingstown resident Kathleen Snyder, 39, called it all "a colossal waste of time." And Audrey Davidson, an administrator for the Halifax County public school system, said the race has devolved over the past six months.

"Initially, we had two saints running for office," Davidson said over lunch at Ernie's Restaurant in South Boston. "Now, we find out that we have two men with the Devil as an opponent."

But, the Post says despite the voter reaction, "national experts in political advertising say the attack strategy works, so it continues."

Now, I'd like to know the definition of "works" used by the "national experts" .... particularly in Virginia which ranks 36th out of 50 states in the number of women registered to vote and 33rd in the percentage of women who turn out.

The story quotes experts on the emotional influence of the ads, but doesn't give any indication about just what effect the ads have on voter behavior... are they influenced to vote? Or, are candidates satisfied if they just depress turnout among the other candidate's voters?

I've written on this blog before that I think that testosterone driven political fights turn women voters off and depress turnout. I said it after Kerry held his midnight press conference to attack Bush's nomination acceptance speech, and I say it again now .... acting like two rams butting heads or, worse yet, two kids throwing sand in a sand box ... won't get women to the polls.

Do I have studies? No, but I've got lots of women friends and relatives who provide strong "focus group" feedback.

Last August, I wrote in a Daily Press oped about what I thought Democrats should do to increase turnout among women:

Democrats should stop wringing their hands about whether their party and their candidates appeal to NASCAR dads and tax-phobic men over 55 and worry more about connecting with, registering and turning out women (and minority) voters
in Virginia.

Women are listening. All we need to create the emotional spark -- the "torque," as I call it -- that helps drive women voters to the polls, is for our candidates to speak loudly, and with authenticity and concern, about the everyday issues of concern to women ... : equal pay, preventing violence against women, caregiver issues, work/life balance, women's health. Issues that appeal to the sandwich generation and Gen-X alike.

Issues that appeal to real women with real lives.

Sadly, this is not the "strategy" that we see reflected in this year's statewide races.

So, what does this mean about the definition of "works"?

Perhaps, in the refined world of the national experts, it means, that negative campaigning "works" because it depresses turnout generally but energizes the minority of voters who are "true believers" and who increasingly drive national policy into polarized conflicts and politicians to extremes of their parties.

Perhaps it means that negative campaigning "works" because fewer women vote, but that's okay because it means the men stay in charge even though they are a minority of the US population.

Or, perhaps it means that negative campaigning "works" because none of the "national experts" knows how to run a truly inspirational campaign that galvanizes voters across a wide spectrum, so they resort to what "works" ... mean spirited, ennervating campaigns that wear most people out before election day and leave the decision about who will lead us to the few among us who are motivated to vote by passion driven by enmity or "true" belief.

Wouldn't it be refreshing if someone really tried to run a campaign that inspired?

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