Archive for September, 2010

All Politics is… National?

September 24th, 2010 3 comments

Election time is coming up once again. While I’d love to dive into the horserace predictions and party strategy, you can get all of that at FiveThirtyEight. Instead, I’d like to highlight a little thought you might want to take with you into some of the smaller statewide elections that go on. The most attention, of course, gets paid to the presidential election, followed by that of the Senate and House. But there’s a pretty compelling reason you should think about your state’s gubernatorial election, and not just because it will directly impact your state, or because “gubernatorial” sounds like someone tried to make a five-year-old’s utterance sound intellectual.

The reason is simply that governors = future presidential candidates.

Presidents Reagan, Clinton, and Bush Jr.

Our three most recent governors-turned presidents.

It’s not just that governors like running for president, but we also like electing them. Governors seem like mini-presidents for their states, and people connect with the executive confidence that all of that entails (especially as opposed to Senators, who are seen as much better at talking/arguing than managing/leading). Vice presidents tend to be the only other contenders that can regularly steal the stage from governors when it comes to running for president, but it’s no surprise that after 4-8 years of being ready to step in, people see them as qualified for the position.

Still, my point about governors is not just anecdotal. Over the course of the past 20 presidents we’ve had before Obama, spanning 116 years, we’ve only spent about 42 of those years under presidents who had not been governors previously. Interestingly, of all the gubernatorially-deficient presidents during that time, only Eisenhower served a full two terms.

So next time you go into the voting booth to vote for your state’s governor, or your party’s nominee for governor, just keep in the back of your head that you may very well also be influencing the future batch of presidential nominees. And remember – those governor-turned presidents tend to stick around longer than their counterparts, so choose wisely.

What the Democrats Could Learn from Coca-Cola

September 13th, 2010 2 comments

Coca-Cola probably has the strongest brand image in the world, unlike today's Democratic Party.

Do you remember all those Coca-Cola ads where the guy would explain the reasons Coke is so delicious, list various benefits of drinking it, and tout the drink’s global presence and growing market share?


Maybe that’s because those ads never existed. And yet, Coca-Cola is the most recognized brand in the world. It has maintained a titanium-strong brand image and a loyal customer base for years. The Democratic Party should be taking notes.

You see, political parties are essentially brands. As much as we’d like to imagine every citizen dutifully collecting facts and performing high levels of careful, informed analysis before forming opinions about politicians and their policies, the truth is that this is simply impractical. While the education system and media have plenty of blame to share in terms of failing to produce informed citizenry, the American people themselves deserve a bit of a break on this front. Not everyone has the time, information, interest, and education to sift through all the political points that are thrown at them. That’s why political parties are so important. John Q. Public can walk into the voting booth on election day and immediately be able to assume some very important things about the candidate with either a ‘D’ or an ‘R’ next to their name, even if Mr. Public hasn’t done all his homework.

Unfortunately the Democrats seem to be missing most of Coke’s time tested-lessons. They are trying to explain specific policies; they are trying to argue facts and data, and they are trying to assert their track record. In short, they are trying to be like the guy I described at the start of this post, rather than a polar bear with a coke bottle.

Yes, the policies are important. But so is message, and right now the Republicans are winning with their tried and true refrain of “smaller government.” It is a clear and coherent message, and a positive image for most Americans. It doesn’t matter if their policies amount to class warfare against the poor, welfare for oil companies, or even bigger government. If Democrats really want to fight for the policy minutiae they believe in, they are going to have to work on building their brand. There’s still some old imagery that might be good to dust off, like the Democrat as underdog. “We fight for the little guy” might be a succinct slogan that the public can get on board with. No need to change policies or beliefs – just reiterate them around the framework of a coherent message. It might take a walloping in the mid-term elections before the Democrats figure this out, but if they can get it straight, and begin to build a clear brand image, I think a lot of folks would find it… refreshing.

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