Mike the Mad Biologist

Over at MyDD.com, there’s some consternation about how a generic Democrat beats a generic Republican in opinion polls, but named Democrats do poorly against named Republicans. As you might imagine, everyone is arguing that this is the reason why his or her electoral strategy MUST BE FOLLOWED. I think the explanation is pretty straightforward:

The more voters know about a particular candidate, the less they like that candidate.

I’m serious; this isn’t snark. Any time that a political party is identified with controlling the Congress by more than 64 percent of the voting public, that party loses seats, even if that party doesn’t actually control the Congress. The more public knowledge of a candidate or party there is, the more the negatives go up, and the positives go down.

It’s a good null hypothesis anyway…

Comments

  1. #1 Coin
    June 19, 2007

    As you might imagine, everyone is arguing that this is the reason why his or her electoral strategy MUST BE FOLLOWED.

    Frankly, MyDD’s just kind of turned into an unreadable mess the last few weeks.

    What used to be an uncommonly informed site about politics under the magnifying glass is just turning into a battleground for invading waves of supporters of one presidential primary candidate or another, endlessly sniping at one another over petty missteps by one presidential candidate or another until any discussion of the issues of the campaign (or for that matter anything else) is entirely drowned out. The site operators keep expressing unhappiness at the direction the site has taken, but at the same time if you look at their actions they seem more interested in participating in the flamewars than doing something to calm them.

    When Matt and Chris get their new site started up I might just start reading that instead…

  2. #2 Josh
    June 20, 2007

    Sounds like an argument in favor of parliamentary democracy to me.

  3. #3 Daryl McCullough
    June 21, 2007

    Mike,

    I have a related, but slightly different, hypothesis. If you are asked about a generic Democrat, then you will summon up what you think of as the defining characteristics of Democrats. If you are liberal, these might be positives, such as commitment to civil rights, equality, the environment, the poor, etc. On the other hand, if you are asked about a specific Democrat, then you will dwell, not on generic Democratic qualities, but on specific personality traits of this candidate: Does he or she seem sincere, or stuffy, or smart, or condescending, or honest, or whatever? These personal traits have nothing to do, specifically, with Democrats. Once the issues become personal, the race becomes a toss-up. Or perhaps one party or the other is better at grooming likable candidates, but the decision is no longer about the defining characteristics of one party versus the other.

    This suggests a strategy for political parties: If you believe that your party’s defining characteristics resonate with the public, then candidates should try to stay “generic”. Don’t try to make your candidate into a maverick, and don’t try to make your candidate into a colorful personality—that can only hurt your chances.

    On the other hand, if your party’s defining characteristics fail to resonate with the public, or are considered negative to the public, then you should try to make the campaign personal. Focus on character, likability, personal virtue, etc. Staying “generic” doesn’t help if the public doesn’t approve of the generic candidate from your party.

  4. #4 Mike the Mad Bioloigst
    June 21, 2007

    Daryl,

    Interesting idea. But what do you do when your issues resonate, but your party’s image doesn’t. I’m not sure how to solve that one…

  5. #5 Coin
    June 21, 2007

    This suggests a strategy for political parties: If you believe that your party’s defining characteristics resonate with the public, then candidates should try to stay “generic”. Don’t try to make your candidate into a maverick, and don’t try to make your candidate into a colorful personality—that can only hurt your chances.

    I’m pretty sure this was the exact strategy that drove the Kerry, Gore, and Thomas Dewey campaigns:

    Indeed, given Truman’s sinking popularity, Dewey had seemed unstoppable. Republicans figured that all they had to do was to avoid destroying a certain election victory, and as such, Dewey did not take any risks. He spoke in platitudes, trying to transcend politics. Speech after speech was filled with empty statements of the obvious, such as the famous quote: “You know that your future is still ahead of you.” An editorial in the Louisville Courier-Journal summed it up:

    No presidential candidate in the future will be so inept that four of his major speeches can be boiled down to these historic four sentences: Agriculture is important. Our rivers are full of fish. You cannot have freedom without liberty. Our future lies ahead.

    It was believed that Dewey’s poor showing in 1944 was partly due to being too aggressive, a fault which his campaign aimed to avoid this time.

    I think the basic flaw in the “avoid defining your personality, stay generic” strategy is that “generic” is, unto itself, a defining personality trait. And historically it has not been a defining personality trait that voters like.

    On the other hand this is basically the strategy that got Ronald Reagan elected President two or three times, so maybe there’s something in it.

  6. #6 şişme bebek
    June 11, 2009

    I think the basic flaw in the “avoid defining your personality, stay generic” strategy is that “generic” is, unto itself, a defining personality trait. And historically it has not been a defining personality trait that voters like