By John Stang
Luke wrote yesterday about how money can have an impact on the political system, tracing he historical roots of the problem. With the rise of Super Pacs as a result of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, the idea of money affecting political races can be seen right before our eyes. I wanted to point to some factors that can tun opinion very quickly. None of these are the only reason for changing races, but they can have the most impact:
1. Do as the “Establishment” does: Every election cycle, regardless of party, there is this boogeyman (sorry, I mean wise pooh-bahs) that hide in the shadows to decide who the nominee of each party is going to be. At least, that is how the media portrays them. In reality, its just bunch of rich donors that are staunch supporters of one party or another, and, here’s the kicker, they organize and vote in primaries. For the Republicans, this is the Bob Dole/George H.W. Bush types that run the old fashion party of business and are supporting Mitt Romney. Usually, they support the next guy in line. Newt Gingrich is trying to court the populist side of the party by explaining how he’s been victimized by the “establishment” conspiracy. For Democrats, the establishment can include old hands in the party, like the late Ted Kennedy or Robert Byrd. As a college student in the Virginia, I notice that many of the Southern Democrats do vote based on the “establishment.” Ted Kennedy was also a key endorsement for Obama in 2008. Sometimes the establishment can’t stear an election, aka Christine O’Donnell or Sharon Angle. I would argue that 85% of the time though, the establishment will have the upper hand in choosing candidates. After all, they are the party leaders and the most organized.
2. 24 hour news and the blogosphere: There are 2 ways that I see 24-hour news channels making a difference in a race. First, the incessant repeating of stories over and over again. If it’s negative, then that politician will have a deep hole to climb out of because if man hear’s a story in a repetitive fashion, it goes unquestioned; this makes it like a free negative campaign ad for the other politician who is not implicated in the story. Second, the pure partisanship of a network can make a difference. Fox News has the power to shape conservative thinking because it takes conservative talk radio and blog information and regurgitates it as news. MSNBC tries to do the same thing, although liberals do not consume media in such a hierarchical fashion, so it does not work as well. Although, liberals will often link information from blog to blog, getting the message out very quickly. Watch sometime how Fox talks about Newt Gingrich versus Mitt Romney, there is clear populist tone. Now, that is not to say it works all the time. I would contend that not all conservatives or Republicans watch Fox, but it can spark anger on issues that are critical for Gingrich’s base, like hating the main stream media.
3. Character Assassination Attempts: More and more, people are starting to look at a candidates character to decide their presidential quality. We’ve developed idiotic tests like “who would you rather have a beer with?” or “who do you want answering the phone at 3 am?” Often, these tests have very little to do with policy debates and look like a TMZ profile. Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, Bain Capital, and Willie Horton all discuss the integrity of a particular candidate. While voters might vote on other things. In the back of their minds, these mundane attacks can seal the deal.
4. When the time is right, will you be ready?: Timing is everything in politics. The correct placement of ads, good wording in a speech, or even shaking the right person’s hand all have the chance to change the outcome of a race. There is a reason that Rick Santorum surged in Iowa at the last minute, he had not been brutally attacked and the Evangelicals swarmed around him. Newt Gingrich also had a good debate performance in South Carolina close the vote, while Mitt Romney flopped at the wrong time. The reverse could be true in Florida. Some attacks are effective or misfires, even if they look good on paper, depending on the mood of the people. If it comes off at just the right moment, everything can change.
5. Shrewd Calculators: Remember, voters are not oblivious to the national scene. They have two choices. Either pick the candidate that matches their values or the one who can win, sometimes it’s all the same package deal. Gingrich has the momentum and Romney looks like the man to win the general election. If someone is very active in politics and is an active party member, then like a sports bet, he can chose who has the better chance of winning. Not everyone votes like this, but consider that primary voters are the more hardcore vote. Sometimes, that means they vote with their gut, but they also want their party to win too. Informed voters can be almost as calculating as a political consultant.