Posts Tagged ‘republicans’
What is a “brand”?
A “brand” is a product or service or organization which has values, qualities or traits deeply associated with it. It is the “identity” of a product, service or organization, and it is reinforced by “differentiators”: those things which set the brand apart from its competitors. When you buy Coke rather than the generic alternative (and typically pay far more in the process), you do so perhaps because you prefer Coke’s taste (a trait) or (more often) because Coke’s marketing efforts have associated with their product values you favor or relate to. When you buy Pepsi instead of Coke, maybe you like Pepsi’s taste, or maybe you identify with Pepsi’s efforts to position their product as “younger”. At root, however, “brand” is a function of trust: when you buy a Coke, you trust it will consistently deliver whatever it is you’ve come to expect. Whether you are in Hong Kong or London or San Francisco, when you order a hamburger at a McDonalds, you trust it will taste the same and deliver the same experience. Being true to the brand promise is of extreme importance: if the burger you ordered at any particular McDonalds was completely different than the burger at any other McDonalds, or if each can of Coke tasted differently, the brand would instantly become meaningless: the brand promise betrayed, there is no longer any reason for you to pick the brand over a competitor.
What does the idea of a “brand” mean in the context of the Republican Party? And how’s the health of the Republican Party’s “brand”?
The Republican Party likes to brand itself as the party of small government, fiscal prudence, a free market and liberty. Their brand promise is lower government spending, less governmental intrusion into the lives of Americans, safety and the ability to transact business with limited governmental constraints, and minimal direct governmental participation in the economy.
How has the GOP performed on its brand promise? Are the party’s differentiators meaningful to their customers, the Amercian electorate? The answers, in short, are: poorly and no.
Many voters today see little difference between the Republican and Democratic parties: independent voters are now the largest segment of the electorate, and the fastest growing. Republican George W Bush, of the ostensibly “small government” party, increased government spending substantially: the rate of non-defense discretionary spending growth during the first term of his Presidency was over 3,500% greater than it was under President Clinton’s first term, and over 230% higher than President Carter. This was in following his father’s footsteps: George HW Bush increased spending over 6,800% faster than President Reagan. When it comes to “small government” and fiscal prudence, the Republican Party has lost, entirely, any ability to differentiate from the Democrats: for the period 1988 – 2004, Bush 43 (a Republican) grew government spending the fastest, followed by Clinton’s (a Democrat) second term, then Bush 42 (a Republican), and finally Clinton’s (a Democrat) first term. Going back a bit farther, President Nixon increased spending at a rate five times faster than President Carter did. There is no difference between the parties, and this undermines the Republican brand significantly (it doesn’t damage the Democrats nearly as much, as their branding has not often made fiscal prudence a brand promise).
On the issue of liberty and freedom, there is likewise little to differentiate the party brands: President George W Bush substantially reduced individual freedom by way of (among other things) authorizing warrantless wiretaps of citizens of the United States and effectively eliminated habeus corpus protection; President Obama (among other things) granted retroactive immunity to the telecommunications companies who went along with these wiretaps, and subsequently extended his interpretation of a President’s powers to include the assissination of United States’ citizens without charge, trial or conviction. A Republican and a Democrat, with little to distinguish their stances on personal freedom and liberty.
In more recent times, the Republican party has also come to be the home of the “social conservatives”: that part of the electorate most pre-occupied with issues such as abortion, gay marriage and “Christian values”, and often identified as the “religious right”. This segment of the party has significantly diluted the Republican brand, and in focusing on “social conservative” issues, has dimished the core differentiators of the Republican brand we mentioned earlier: small government, fiscal prudence, a free market and liberty. And while 78% of those Republicans aged fifty-eight or older described themselves as “social conservatives”, 46% of Republicans aged eighteen to thirty-seven describe themselves as “social moderates”. The “social conservative” aspect of the Republican brand is a losing proposition for the party in the medium to long term.
The rapid growth and substantial number of independent voters is the consequence of the parties’ diluted brands: if Coke and Pepsi and the no-name brand all taste exactly the same and are the same price, what compelling reason beyond inertia is there to make a person pick Coke over Pepsi, or Pepsi over Coke, or either over the no-name brand? This is where the GOP finds itself in 2012. And things are going to get much worse for the Republican Party establishment: the younger the voter, the less likely that voter is to be a member of the Republican Party. 37% of the party’s members are fifty-eight or older, and 24% are between forty-eight and fifty-seven, but only 14%-15% of members are between the ages of twenty-eight and forty-seven, and just 6% are between eighteen and twenty-seven. The party is aging, and new voters do not find the brand compelling.
The conventional thinking is that the Republican Party is for people who have stuff (which they don’t want the government to take away), and the Democratic Party is for people who don’t have stuff (and want the government to give them stuff), and as people get stuff, they shift to the Republican Party. But that thinking is deeply flawed: the current generation of voters aged eighteen to twenty-seven have stuff, and they’re not joining the Republican fold (in 2008, 58% of voters aged eighteen to twenty-nine were either Democrats or leaned Democrat, while only 33% of that age group were, or leaned, Republican, a downward trend that has continued uninterrupted since at least 1992, when Republicans had a 47% to 46% edge in this age group).
The Republican Party has repeatedly betrayed its brand promise, and the party no longer has the core differentiators it once did. As such, it does not have a meaningful sales pitch for new customers – those people reaching voting age. The party’s brand has become “New Coke”.
What can the Republican Party do to reverse this slide and rebuild the party’s brand? And are they doing it?
Almost all the candidates currently competing for the Republican Presidential nomination are running on a platform based not upon the core Republican brand, but on relatively recent changes to that brand, which coincide with the dilution of party support among new voters – the “New Coke” of the Republican Party: social conservatism, military interventionism and big government. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum is considered “conservative” because he is staunchly “pro-life” and wants to bomb Iran (while his history in office shows him indistinguishable from a Democrat when it comes to the “Classic Coke” version of the Republican Party: he voted in favor of increasing the debt ceiling, consistently voted in favor of earmarks, backed Arlen Spector in his run for Presidential nominee of the Republican Party (Spector, a pro-choice, pro-gay rights, anti-gun rights and pro-affirmative action candidate, subsequently switched sides, becoming a Democrat in 2009), does not believe United States citizens enjoy privacy protection under the Constitution, and believes the government should involve itself in private enterprise by picking certain sectors for special treatment (Mr Santorum would like to eliminate the corporate tax on manufacturers, and only manufacturers)). Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney implemented a government health care program while Governor, increased state spending by over 32% in four years and, in an effort to appeal to the “New Coke” Republican brand, switched from “pro-choice” to “pro-life”. Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House, believes the federal government should be responsible for finanically assisting citizens’ home purchases, has signed a “New Coke” document entitled a “Pledge of Fidelity” promising not to cheat on his current wife, and wants to remove more personal freedoms by strengthening the Patriot Act. Texas Governor Rick Perry, who increased spending over 82% in Texas, focuses on the “war on religion” the federal government is supposedly waging. These candidates all believe that “New Coke” is a winning formula, and they are doubling-down on it. And this lack of differentiation has resulted in a fractured field: no candidate received more than 25% of the vote in the Iowa caucuses.
The lone candidate seeking to rebrand the Republican Party, to bring back “Classic Coke”, is Texas Representative Ron Paul: he proposes cutting government spending by one trillion dollars in the first year, eliminating five federal departments, increasing personal liberties by doing away with things such as the Patriot Act and permitting states to decide issues such as gay marriage and abortion. Mr Paul’s foreign policy, which calls for non-interventionism and only Congressionally-authorized wars, is materially different from the Democrats and every other candidate. And that rebranding, that original formula, is resonating with customers: in the Iowa caucuses, 48% of caucus goers aged seventeen to twenty-nine voted for Mr Paul, as did 43% of independents. These are the very customers the Republican Party desperately needs in the years and decades ahead.
For those efforts to rebrand the Republican Party, Ron Paul has been alternately ignored or reviled. The Republican Party doggedly insists that “New Coke” is the winning formula, and any suggestions that “Classic Coke” should be reintroduced is met with open hostility. Mr Paul has been called “dangerous” and more recently “disgusting” by his fellow Republican, Rick Santorum. Mr Paul’s foreign policy is dismissed out of hand: a non-interventionist defense policy is not even permitted debate. But as we’ve seen already, independents are the largest share of the electorate, and they are demonstrating a genuine taste for “Classic Coke”. And in hypothetical match ups against President Obama, Mr Paul’s “Classic Coke” matches Mitt Romney’s chances for victory in a general election.
The Republican Party establishment ignores this erosion of its brand at its peril: with nearly twice as many young people leaning Democrat rather than Republican, and with independent voters the deciding factor in general elections, “New Coke” is a strategy for failure. The Republican Party’s brand is materially and demonstrably diluted, and the party is going to need to engage in a serious rebranding exercise, building meaningful differentiators and building trust with new customers. Those customers are waiting, and they seem to have a thirst for “Classic Coke”.
UPDATE: supplementary data from Mrs Palin’s time as Alaska’s Governor:
Mrs Palin never once cut spending during her tenure as Governor. During Mrs Palin’s first year as Governor, the Alaska state budget remained identical to the prior year, at $17.67bn. During that same year, federal transfer payments to Alaska increased 2.56% to $10.68bn. The next year, the Governor increased spending by 0.57%, while federal transfer payment increased by 2.56%. The following year, Mrs Palin increased the state’s spending by over ten percent; 10.57% to be exact (to $19.57bn). That same year federal transfer payments increased yet again, and massively: this time transfer payments from the federal government went up an astonishing 32.4%, to $14.65bn (see below – it seems Mrs Palin’s gift for extracting federal money translated very well from her time as mayor of Wasilla). All state statistics can be found at usgovernmentspending.com; federal payments to Alaska can be found at census.gov.
All told, with Mrs Palin at the helm, the state spent 10.75% more by the end of her tenure than it did when she took office. During that same period, federal payments to Alaska by the federal government rose an incredible 40.74%.
All those extra dollars, of course, come from the taxpayers.
We’ll leave it to you to decide whether increasing state spending by over 10% and enjoying over 40% more federal largesse is the mark of a fiscal conservative…
CNN today published a press release on behalf of Sarah Palin. What we mean by “press release” is that the “story” is simply about a speech Mrs Palin is planning to give in Iowa tomorrow, Saturday September 3, 2011. As such, it is a story advising readers that there is a story forthcoming at some future date. The article does, however, speculate (as these articles always do) about Mrs Palin’s ambitions to stage a run to become the President of the United States. The article goes on to state that Sarah Palin will potray herself as an “outsider” to the Washington establishment in the forthcoming speech.
The problem Mrs Palin faces, however, is that she is a qualified “tax and spender”. Sarah Palin is the former Governor of a state, Alaska, where an enormous percentage of the population is anything but “outside” government. In fact, 31% of all workers in Alaska are directly employed by government of one level or another (Gallup). Additionally, as the New York Times correctly reports, Alaska received the greatest per-capita amount of the so-called “stimulus”: the equivalent of $3,145 for each man, woman and child. Further, Mrs Palin, as Mayor of Wasilla, hired a lobbying firm which in turn extracted $25,000,000 from the Federal Government. Wasilla is a town of less than 7,000 people, which works out to another $3,571 for every man, woman and child. Sarah Palin’s political background in Alaska (and in fact the entire background of the state she hails from) is almost entirely predicated upon extracting money from the federal government. Here’s a quote from Carl Gatto, Republican, 13th District, Alaska House of Representatives: “I’ll give the federal government credit: they sure give us a ton of money. For every $1 we give them in taxes for highways, they give us back $5.76.” Of course, the extra $4.76 Mr Gatto’s state receives comes out of the pockets of workers in every other state, by way of taxes.
At root, Mrs Palin, for all her constitutionalist, small-government rhetoric, is “tax and spend”, provided, of course, it is non-Alaskans paying the bill.
Yet somehow Sarah Palin appeals to a not-insignificant subset of the Tea Party movement. And she is largely perceived as anti-tax, anti-spending. Which is consistent with her actions, provided one doesn’t look beyond her home state, where her actions have demonstrably shown the real message: “I’m not in favor of taxes except for taxes on other people, and I’m not in favor of government spending, except when it is spent in Alaska and paid for by non-Alaskans.”
A very curious and mixed message indeed. And a difficult position to translate into national policy, where there isn’t a pool consisting of 99.77% of “others” to tax.
Some interesting developments on the campaign trail indeed: in the Georgia GOP straw poll of Presidential hopfefuls, some media-annointed heavyweights fared very poorly, while the candidate the media loves to ignore, Ron Paul, again finished within a percentage point of winning the poll, narrowly losing to straw poll winner Herman Cain, who captured 26% of votes against 25.7% for Dr Paul (see our article, “Is Ron Paul Getting a Fair Shake From the Media? Watching the Watchers…” for our analysis of media coverage granted Mr Paul relative to the other candidates and also relative to his showing in the Iowa straw poll). Notably, Herman Cain is a native of Georgia, giving him the home town advantage (Mr Cain received 8% of the vote in the Iowa straw poll, against 27% for Ron Paul).
Candidate Mitt Romney, the former Governor of Massachusetts, who is widely considered to be the eventual GOP Presidential candidate (even among Obama’s staff), finished with just 6% of the straw poll votes. Michele Bachmann, whom Fox News described as having “cemented her top-tier position” after the Iowa straw poll, finished with just 3%. Rick Perry, the former Texas Governor who officially announced his candidacy the day of the Iowa straw poll, finished 5.7 percentage points (or over 22%) behind Dr Paul.
It will be interesting to see the reaction from media outlets to Ron Paul’s latest strong showing (notably, he also polls neck-and-neck with Obama). We’ll be tracking media coverage of this result as part of our ongoing series monitoring the even-handedness of US political coverage.
This is the first in a series of articles examining media coverage of the run up to the 2012 US Presidential election. Today we examine the media response to the Iowa Republican straw poll and attempt to find an empirical answer as to whether the media is under-reporting Ron Paul’s candidacy.
Ron Paul, one of the Republicans hoping to become his party’s Presidential nominee, is an interesting candidate: an obstetrician / gynecologist who has been a member of the House of Representatives on and off for 22 years (1976 to 1977, and again from 1979 to 1985, representing Texas’ 22nd District; 1997 to present representing Texas’ 14th District), Dr Paul has for three decades been considered “on the fringe” of the Republican Party, holding views centered on liberty, freedom and the supremacy of the United States Constitution. Recently, it seems his party is coming around to his views: witness the sudden clamoring for an audit of the Federal Reserve (something Dr Paul has been proposing for many, many years now) and the likewise anti-foreign war tilt of many (but not, notably, all) Republican Presidential aspirants.
But is Ron Paul getting a fair shake from the media? Here is a candidate who set single-day fundraising records in 2007 (and 99.42% of his funding came from individual contributors, with not a cent from federal funding), who has been ahead of the curve on several key issues (notably economic bubbles caused by federal monetary policy and the sagacity of foreign military adventures) and just today finished an extremely close second to Michele Bachmann in the Iowa Republican Presidential straw poll (Mrs Bachmann beat him by just 152 votes). Yet there are more media mentions of Tim Pawlenty, who finished a distant third, receiving fewer than half of Dr Paul’s votes. Does it just seem like Ron Paul isn’t getting the recognition he deserves with a second place finish in the straw poll, or is the media actually giving the Paul campaign the cold shoulder?
To examine this in further detail, we compared the results of the straw poll with media coverage of that same poll by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, CNN, the Huffington Post and Fox News, which we picked arbitrarily. We examined each article and counted the number of references to each prospective Presidential candidate, as well as the number of paragraphs in which each candidate’s name appears, and then expressed these numbers as a percentage of all candidates’ numbers of mentions and paragraphs.
Here’s the executive summary:
- Every single one of the news sources we chose gave a disproportionately low number of mentions and paragraphs to candidate Paul, and in some cases, substantially;
- In every case, Tim Pawlenty, the third place finisher, received more mentions and more paragraphs than Ron Paul;
- The discrepancy between Mr Paul’s straw poll result and subsequent article mentions was the largest in the Los Angeles Times article: despite garnering 27.65% of the Iowa straw poll results, the LA Times article mentioned Mr Paul just twice, in a single paragraph. By comparison, Tim Pawlenty received half as many votes as Mr Paul but received three mentions. Mitt Romney, who wasn’t even part of the straw poll, likewise received three mentions, over three separate paragraphs;
- After the Los Angeles times, the publications with the greatest disparity between Mr Paul’s Iowa showing and the coverage they afforded him were (in order of largest disprepancy to narrowest): New York Times, Huffington Post, Washington Post, CNN and Fox News;
- Rick Perry’s attempt to distract attention from the Iowa straw poll worked: Mr Perry received 49 mentions in the articles we surveyed, compared to 47 for the straw poll winner, Michele Bachmann, and just 18 for Ron Paul;
- Herman Cain received fewer than one-third of the votes Mr Paul received, however CNN mentioned him as many times, in the same number of paragraphs, as Dr Paul;
- Fox News came closest to giving each candidate a number of mentions and paragraphs proportional to that candidate’s poll showing (but Ron Paul was still substantially under-represented).
*****Update 1: strange too how the results of the Ames straw poll were announced by the organizers – or rather, weren’t: Michele Bachmann was announced as the winner, and that was it – no announcement of how the rest of the field fared, which is particularly strange given that Ron Paul came in second by just 152 votes. You can see the announcement here (see also around the 2:35 mark, as Paul’s numbers are shown on the board and the crowd reacts).
*****Update 2: today (Sunday, August 14th, 2011) the New York Times ran an article titled, “After Iowa, Republicans Face a New Landscape” written by Jeff Zeleny and Michael D. Shear. The article spends 27 paragraphs discussing the remaining potential Republican Presidential nominees in light of Tim Pawlenty’s withdrawal from the race. In those 27 paragraphs, the candidate who missed winning the Ames straw poll by just 152 votes is given this single sentence, in the second-to-last paragraph: “Representative Ron Paul of Texas, who finished a close second in the straw poll, could also influence the race with his strain of libertarian views that have become more popular in this economic climate.”
*****Update 3: Jon Stewart ran an excellent segment about the concerted effort to ignore Mr Paul:
Here is the data in chart form (in order of largest “Ron Paul discrepancy” to least): red lines indicate percentage of votes received in the Iowa straw poll by the candidate; white lines indicate percentage of paragraph mentions for the candidate (as compared to total number of paragraphs in which all candidates’ names appear, ie not to the total number of paragraphs in the article); blue lines indicate total number of mentions of the candidates’ names in the article:
There’s no other way to look at it: the 2008 US election should be an absolute cakewalk for the Democrats: a profoundly disliked president, an economy in a crisis not seen since the late 1920s, an unpopular war, US global influence vastly diminished, a currency weaker than it’s been in a generation and eight solid years of a Republican presidency.
And yet, in recent polls, Republican Presidential nominee John McCain, disliked by his own party’s most faithful (in multiple senses of the word…), is starting to gain a small lead. What gives?
The problem is fundamental to Democrats: on the whole, the population of the United States does not embrace Democratic philosophy, and the Democratic party itself is a collection of such deeply divergent special interests that keeping a coalition happily united is a near impossible task.
On the first point, the bulk of the US population does not agree with the fundamental principle of Democratic policies: that it is a just course of action to take from many to pay for the chosen few on ideological grounds. In fact, the “founding fathers” of the US said as much: to quote Thomas Jefferson, “The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.”
The majority of people in the US are willing to look after themselves, work hard and honestly don’t expect the government to provide the solution to every last inconvenience.
Take the mortgage crisis: while Barack Obama (and the Democratic Congress) pushed for a government bailout of the banks (ostensibly under the guise of helping the distressed home owners, however keep in mind it’s the banks who lose on a grand scale when mortgages default), Mr. McCain had a very different message: why should you, as a responsible homeowner, have to pay for your neighbour’s error in judgement in taking on an ultimately unserviceable mortgage?
You’d think Mr. Obama and the rest of the Democrats would gain an awful lot of traction with their “we’ll save you” message. However they miscalculated the math: their “solution” imposes a burden on 95% of the population for the benefit of the 5% of the population who quite willingly and freely chose to over-extend themselves. While on the surface you’d think Mr. Obama’s message would have massive popular appeal, the Democrats simply don’t have the numbers.
They likewise have a problem hanging their case for the White House on President Bush’s unpopularity. Why? Because the only thing statistically more unpopular among Americans than President Bush is the Democratic Congress! The Democratic message, repeated ad infinitum, of Mr. McCain being simply an extension of President Bush has rung hollow from the get-go: if you’re going to make the case that your opponent is simply a mirror image of the current President by virtue of the fact he voted with the President 90% of the time, you’d best first ensure your record doesn’t reflect a voting record that obediently voted with your even more unpopular Congressional colleagues 97% of the time!
Clearly Mr. Obama’s advisors see Mr. McCain’s reputation for independence as a very significant threat to their candidate’s image as an agent of change. Unfortunately in doing so, they expose Mr. Obama to charges that he’s anything but an agent of change, opening the door for Mr. McCain to point to his rival’s hardly-inspiring record of simply going along with his party during his three years in office.
On the second point, the Democrats are a party based on reconciling irreconcilable differences: their supporters include union members (read: union leaders), but also the “environmentalists” who oppose exactly the kind of industries who lend themselves to a unionized workforce. An overwhelming majority of lawyers support the Democrats by virtue of the party’s opposition to punitive damage caps, but at the same time they seek to appeal to Jack and Jane Blue Collar, hardly a constituency enamored of rich lawyers who enjoy a lavish lifestyle based largely on attacking large employers of union folk. Those same hard working, blue collar supporters find themselves supporting the same party as vaccuous Hollywood stars, for whom it’s important to be seen as egalitarian as they phone in their donations while ensconced in their multi-million dollar homes.
Mr. Obama’s San Francisco comments about “people clinging to guns and religion” is very telling: this is a party which, at its root, attempts to appeal to the disenfranchised only for the purpose of getting power so that they can subsequently get to the more important task of imposing ideologies. It’s no different than Mr. Obama making speeches about “protecting” blue collar jobs by way of protectionist policies while his representatives simultaneously approach the Canadian government to reassure them it’s all just talk and they needn’t get nervous about existing trade agreements, despite their candidate’s insistence he will “renegotiate” those same agreements.
The bigger problem Barack Obama and the Democrats face is the sophistication of the voters: the Democratic message of the government as the solution for all the populace’s woes doesn’t ring true to a population who has seen it all before and is familiar with the results. If government intervention was truly the answer, wouldn’t pre-open-economy China, the old Soviet Union and, more recently, Venezuela be paradises for their people?
Finally, the Democratic leadership seems to have an oddly myopic view of reality: they appear to only associate with other Democrats and in so doing get a distorted view of their own popularity. Their hubris has bitten them many times before: both Mr. Gore and Mr. Kerry were widely considered shoe-ins – it was incomprehensible that they should lose. Far-left Democratic supporters (think Michael Moore et al) were utterly dumb-struck that their candidate could have lost in ’00 and even more so in ’04. However a look at an electoral map should have given them a heads up: it’s only in areas of particularly dense population that Democratic philosophies gain traction. By land mass, the United States overwhelmingly embraces Republican political philosophies (as difficult as those philosophies are to define when you have a Republican President who spends more and grows government larger than any Democrat has).
It must be tough times indeed for any clear-eyed Democratic supporter: circumstances have aligned in a way that ought to leave them planning a victory parade rather than worrying about the messy business of campaigning. And yet, the more the voters learn of their candidate, the worse the poll results become. Meanwhile, in a climate ripe for a message of change, the Democratic candidate finds himself up against an opponent who has more (and proven) credibility as an actual change agent.
At heart, most Americans really just want the government to leave them alone and let them get about the business of working hard and providing for their own needs and the needs of their families. For these voters, the only thing worse than being told what to do is being told what to do by the government, regardless of how elequently those orders are conveyed…
The View from the North
Given I’m not a US citizen, it’s easy to look south of the border with detached bemusement as the Democratic candidates try to convince the voters to let them run the country while at the same time struggling to run a primary race. Florida and Michigan, in case you’ve been on another planet for the past several weeks, jumped the gun and held their primaries early, in contravention of Democratic party rules (rules which both states voted in favour of). Now that the primary race has reached a point whereby neither candidate can secure enough votes needed to win outright, attempts are being made to have the discredited votes/voters count towards the result.
It seems to me the Democratic party, under Howard Dean’s leadership, caused the problem by not reducing the amount of delegates needed to win the nomination Read the rest of this entry »