Friday, October 20, 2006

 

Voters' gestalt vs. polling

A few comments about the Univ. of Cincinnati's new survey. First, here is how the researchers summed up the results:
The latest Ohio Poll finds that no single issue dominates the electoral environment in Ohio this year. Many voters continue to say candidate characteristics (such as experience, political party or character) will have the biggest impact on how they cast votes for Ohio governor and U.S. Senate.
This shouldn't be surprising and we think it's somewhat of a fool's errand to try to find those one or two dominating "issues" or "characteristics."

If anything, the results confirm George Lakoff's theories about people taking action based on perceived moral systems rather than any single issues(s)/characteristic(s), regardless of what kind of self-interests people might have in that issue(s)/characteristic(s).

Voters build multi-dimensional frameworks for making their decisions. Issues may be one dimension of this framework. Characteristics another. Language, empathy, family, religion and personal experiences also come into play.

Citizens maintain a somewhat moveable center of gravity within this moral matrix that brings them closer to one candidate and away from another. Ultimately, as Lakoff notes, voters make their decision based on a perceived, whole identity, not a single issue or two.

Democrats have, for lack of a better word, stumbled into a fairly successful framing of the elections based on the "Had Enough?" theme. They are somewhat lucky that, at least in Ohio, there is a perfect convergence of corruption, incompetence, arrogance and anger, and we are confident that the "Had Enough?" frame will be successful through election day.

But Democrats will quickly have to quickly move beyond the limits of this time-specific frame and develop a more permanent identity and implied moral system focused - both overtly and with subtlety - on things like opportunity, freedom, respect, honesty and patriotism.

The price of ignoring this and going off the offensive will be enormous. The GOP is already crafting it's 2008 and '10 strategies. 2006 will have knocked them back on their heels, but long-term planning has been their strength. Can the Dems make it their strength, too?

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